The narrative is set in the early 1980s in a remote area of Pennsylvania. Libby Gallagher, 15, goes by vehicle to her mother and four siblings from school when the fight breaks out. When the mother is driving home from the children’s school. 12 years old sister Ellen sparks a conversation that makes her mother snap and is made to get out of the car. This forces Ellen to travel in darkness the rest of the way. Libby is scared of something terrible, and her biggest nightmare comes takes shape when Ellen gets followed by a weird stalker. But things don’t end there and rather take a turn for the worse. Join Libby as she narrates the tale of her dysfunctional family, thrilling misadventures, all the while keeping up with her changing teenage life around her.
Valley Forge Mountain, a narrow rural hamlet on the outskirts of Philadelphia, is the setting of the plot. We are back in the era of the 1980s, and the narrator, Ellen’s 15 years old sister, Libby, is someone who is struggling to settle into a place for herself in her new changing world. She has a thing for skinny dipping, the woodland forts, and keg parties. She likes the neatness of the well-to-do rearing of her closest friend, even though it makes her feel disgusted with her gloomy household. However, she finds herself twined between two emotions, however, as she is fully aware that she should have more sympathy with her mother and that she should not feel sorry for the Irish father who is responsible but adored, yet her sentiments about her everyday existence are not easy.
On the final day of the year Faye Gallagher, a widowed single mother, driving her five squabbling kids home, finally snaps mid-argument with one of her children. She snaps and asks Ellen, aged 12, to leave the car and go the remaining five miles on her own, on her feet. Hours later, the darkness fell, and yet Ellen does not return.
Not only does what follows break the innocence of the girls, but it also launches an events chain that uncovers the obscurity in their slumbering city. This tale shows how in an instant all may change.
In the face of the consequences of Ellen’s desertion, we follow the ups and downs of Libby with her best friend, as she struggles with the changes in her young world, try to find out who she is, and get to know some of the unfriendly players in the world; learn how to figure out who to trust.
With the muggy summer drifting past, the impact of this fatal automobile ride keeps the track ticking, taxing Libby’s sensibility and straining family links. Some of her epiphanies offer a unique YA atmosphere and a nod to forces that shape the globe – mining strips and protestors in Northern Ireland, the blinding exceptionalism of America.
Where Mannion stands out is to evoke a moment and a location that slips away, even as she nails these to a page that is insightful, poetic. The family is soon going to be split but for a time their collective desire for the family, they were at a time in the past, keep them together in the meanwhile though.
The traditional story of the pacier engine of a thriller needs expertise and A Crooked Tree’s nostalgia, foresight, and clear-eyed empathy is more than convincing and radiant.
The novel sets a chilling milieu right from the start. Libby is with her siblings in the vehicle. When their squabbling becomes too out of hand, Ellen, the 12 years old, gets dumped on the roadside by their tired mother. Hours go by and Ellen is yet to come back. Something has obviously happened to Ellen when she appears finally.
However, the sensational mood at the beginning of this story leads to a little more typical coming-of-age story. The concept led me to think of A Crooked Tree as another novel about a rural area and a dysfunctional family. However, A Crooked Tree says a far more classical story that follows a summer of revelations and realizations (the adolescent children realize that it is not always as it seems to be and grownups around you own their fair share of secrets, and life has its way of subtly urging you to bid farewell to the pure innocence of childhood).
While Ellen surely influences the plot, the novel isn’t a thriller or mystery. We follow Libby when she argues and comes to terms with one of her closest friends and siblings, we learn about her typical teenage life and above all of her hate of the bad boy in the neighborhood. It is deserving of much appreciation as to how realistic the scene was from the allusions to the 80s era to the surroundings of Libby (she is especially attuned and attracted to nature). Another praise-worthy aspect of the novel would be the dynamics of family and the discomfort that pervaded several moments. In particular, the author manages to capture that moment of transition from the innocence of childhood to the adversaries of adulthood without becoming over-sentimental about it.
The writing of Mannion is extremely lovely and evocative, not to mention the incredible capacity to build this narrative in a vibrant reality.
A Crooked Tree is a modern, honest and genuine figure. This is a narrative about her family, her belonging, her family’s relationship, and her perseverance, recounted through the minds of a 15-year old, middle child. This is very nicely managed for character improvement. Libby’s relationships with the people around him are so intriguing and genuine, from her children to her closest friend to the single mother for whom she sits. The troubling times felt much more frightening and intriguing.
I was fascinated by the feelings it evoked, and by the tale from beginning to conclusion. Libby, who had been 15 when the event took place, tells the story. Her voice seemed extremely genuine with all its concern, shame, and grief. My heart was caught by the observations that she shared, and it was raw, familiar. A really thoughtful series of events collected on the pages of a novel.
An interesting fact to notice in the turn of the events in the book is the fact that the children were afraid to seek adult help in times of crisis. They were afraid of their mother but also wanted to defend their mother. Ellen is caught on the way after hitch-hiking and had to get out of the moving car since the driver was weird because it was the safest choice. Moreover, she did not want to know her mother, because she would be furious with her mother. So basically, the mother would always blame the children when things went downhill, but that too is a result of a series of events in the mother’s life that doomed her to develop such a personality. Her childhood innocence was crushed way back.
So we’ve got a narrative of insecurity. Although Libby is 15 years old and mature, she is uncertain about what she may tell adults, who she could trust. As many 15 year-olds do, she fears authority, especially as someone just starting to explore and navigate through life. Una Mannion also does a fantastic job, recounting the conflicting and confusing thinking of the 15-year-old as her character of Libby tries to navigate secondary school and life in general.
All in all, this is a thrilling story, full of teenage emotions, but highlighted by Libby’s take on it all. You want the issues asked, and you are interested in Libby, a lady whom even male readers would relate to. At the age of Libby, we were unsure as to who we are, who we want to be, what is feasible, how to interact with our parents, who we trust with other children’s parents. You might not get what you desire in a story every time, but you surely will get what you need in A Crooked Tree.