The Book of Trees
by Leanne Lieberman
Orca Book Publishers, 2010
$12.95, 243 pp, glossary, ages 16+
When Mia is sixteen she lies in the woods at the family cottage and looks up at “the trees in all their beauty.” She loves trees, and sharing that moment with her dad, a musician. Music has always been a major part of Mia’s life and she plays the banjo and guitar in a band with her brother and her boyfriend. After that summer, Mia is suddenly confronted with many changes in her life. Her father decides to live on his own at the cottage, her boyfriend leaves her, and her brother decides to join the armed forces. By the winter, Mia has become very depressed. She needs “more spirituality” in her life. When she sees a poster from a Jewish outreach organization that invites people to “come renew your Jewish soul through song,” she thinks this will help her. Mia shares the Shabbat celebration (a day of rest and worship) with a host family and realizes that all her “actions had a purpose: to bring more God into the world.” Now, when she looks at the trees she feels that God and nature are one. Mia goes to Jerusalem for the summer to a seminary where she will study more about her faith. Mia loves Jerusalem, the desert, and the culture that surrounds her, until a discovery she makes while on a retreat outside of Jerusalem. In the garden are small trees planted in rows, known as Jewish National Fund trees. When Mia is told they are planted over an Arab village she wonders what happened to the people who once lived there. The reason for the planting of the trees opens Mia’s mind to the world around her, as does Andrew, a street busker who helps build houses for Palestinians who have lost their homes. When the bus Mia doesn’t take, because it is too crowded, is blown up by a bomb, Mia’s image of Israel as the “perfect Jewish homeland” starts to unravel. After a meditative experience in the desert, Mia realizes three things must be in her life: Andrew, trees, music. Now she must decide how to combine these with her faith and her belief in social justice.
The Book of Trees could be discussed in Literature Circles with a focus on current events, world religions, coming of age experiences. There is sexual content and swearing in this novel which may make it unsuitable for some young people.
Review by Julia Rank.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2011 issue.