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Well I’ll be, I just read the most amazing book that I’ve had the pleasure to read in a while. The book was called The Sweet Gum Tree, and it can be found at the newly birthed Cerridwen Press, the main stream division of Elloras Cave.

I usually hate waxing lyrical about books, in fact, I don’t think I’ve done so since I read Sarah Mccarty’s Promises Prevail, but when a story is this good, what the hell, I’m just gonna gush away!

This is the blurb from Cerridwen:

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 until the day she looks up-business is booming, and she’s content if not happy 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.

Katherine Allred did something with this book, that no other ‘new’ author (as in new to me) has been able to do in quite a while. She made me care about all the different characters within this story.
First of all she made me absolutely love Alix, our heroine, who we first meet as a feisty eight year old, who’s determined to save Nick from all things evil, whether he wants to be saved or not. We then follow her through the trials and tribulations that she goes through during the process of falling in love, and there after. There were times during the book I just wanted to shake her, and will her to listen to her heart, but this wasn’t a negative for me at all. My desire to kick her up the ass stemmed from a place where sisterly concern dwells.

Allred then made me fall in love with Nick, a boy who has been physically and emotionally abused by his father for as long as he can remember. We first meet him as a scared but proud little boy of ten, but of course we also get to know him as a fine upstanding man later on.

There were other characters, who far from being mere afterthoughts, like sometimes secondary characters tend to be, were critical to the overall feel of this story.
There was ‘The Judge’, who is Alix’s beloved grandfather. There is Alix’s mother, who appears to be one thing when you meet her, then you discover later that she too has skeletons in her very deep wardrobe.
There’s also Alix’s aunts, who also play significant roles in the story, and last, but not least, there’s Lindsey, who we meet right at the beginning of the book, and throughout the book, plays a crucial role in Nick and Alix’s relationship.

This book was hugely character driven, which is probably why I loved it so much. I haven’t cried over a book in a long time, and it was almost cathartic to do so now. It was huge relief to me that I was able to at long last be able to emotionally engage with a book, rather than just going through the motions.

This story was presented in the first person, but in no way did this detract from the overall quality of the book, and as a staunch hater of literature written in the first person, dare I say, that it was almost essential for it to be told from Alix’s point of view.

If you want sex and titillation, then this book is clearly not for you, however, if you want to be taken on an emotional journey, with all kinds of surprising twists and turns, then I suggest you RUN, don’t walk, RUN, to get your copy of The Sweet Gum Tree from Cerridwen Press.

PS, if any of you read this book, and don’t like it, then don’t bother leaving a comment, cuz I might start wondering what you’re smoking!