Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans-everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever. Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick's abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer. Suddenly, Nick is gone-leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick's abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she's starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she's content if not happy -- until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He's back...and he's not alone. Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she's built around her emotions-the truth about Frank Anderson's death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.
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"No one should have to go through life with only half a heart."
I usually judge my novels on the basis of: 1) how well I liked the characters, 2) how much I enjoyed reading about them, and 3) how emotional I felt on their behalf, or CEE (Characters, Enjoyment, and Emotions) for short.
Characters - 3.5 stars:
The characters are well-rounded and real, but the only problem is that didn't like any of them.
I didn't like Alix because I couldn't identify with her no matter how hard I tried and we simply had nothing in common. I didn't like Nick because of his "I don't deserve anything good, I'm afraid I'll taint it, better that I run away now than to hurt later" attitude. I didn't like Jenna because she was (view spoiler)[sleeping with her best friend's boyfriend, and later, husband (hide spoiler)] and I didn't like Hugh because he was a coward.
Enjoyment - 2.5 stars:
For the most part, I didn't enjoy reading The Sweet Gum Tree because nearly every single event was overshadowed by uneasiness.
I would have enjoyed the story a million times more if I'd been given the chance to make up my thoughts myself, rather than Alix coming along after every scene and telling me not to appreciate anything because something truly bad and tragic would be happening soon, and if she'd known that beforehand, she wouldn't have done this or would have done that, etc. Throughout the novel, I was simply anxious. Not in an "OMG, I can't wait to see what happens next!" way but in an "Oh no, oh no, OH NO!!!" way.
Emotions - 5 stars:
Like I said earlier, I was pretty nervous while reading this. Along with that distress, however, was genuine care for the characters and sympathy for everything they went through. The beginning was simply beautiful with Alix and Nick's childhood romance and despite the rocky interval between their young love and HEA, their ending was perfect.
This is an unforgettable and heart-wrenching account of love, family, grief, forgiveness, and life. It's also one of the most compelling stories I've ever read. I only put this book down once, and that was because my eyes simply refused to stay open. Since I started reading it, I didn't get any peace of mind until I'd read the last page and confirmed that Alix and Nick got their HEA.
I felt happy, depressed, exhilarated, restless, scared, and pure joy while reading Alix's story. Highly recommended for fans of emotional and memorable novels!
Overall - 3.7/5 stars