Tree-obsessed might be too weak a word to explain March Wong. He lives and breathes trees. He climbs at least three trees a day, despite the scratches and dangerous falls that are part and parcel of his climbing. He memorizes everything about the trees around him from their common and Latin names to their habitats, the bugs that plague them, and the animals and birds that inhabit their branches. He is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge about trees. He's also autistic. He flutters his hands in front of his face to simulate sunlight winking through leaves, he flaps, he moans, he doesn't like to look people in the face, he needs routine, and he struggles to interact appropriately with others. His intense, narrow focus on trees has resulted in his parents separating (his mother can't and won't move him to treeless Arizona where his father lives) and has also caused the state to want to evaluate whether he is safe in his mother's care since he keeps being injured by his climbing or by his reaction to not being able to climb. Neither of these consequences seem to have much impact on March though, as long as he is still moving towards his ultimate goal, climbing the Eagle Tree, a magnificent tree he spotted in the distance when climbing a neighbor's tree.
The novel is told in the first person from March's perspective. And his perspective is not one we are used to reading. In fact, it is sometimes painful or hard to read when he shuts down, disengaging from whatever is going on around him and retreating into his extreme fascination with trees. Because we are in March's head, we are told each and every fact that he knows about trees. This feels like it could in fact be an authentic look from the inside but it also overwhelms the action going on around March sometimes, minimizing the information that the reader is given about the selling to developers of the forest in which the Eagle Tree stands, and the vitally important upcoming custodial hearing with the state. Although it feels as if March's incessant digressions and intricate details about trees and climate change are integral to making him a believable autistic character, the abundance of information can be tiring for the reader. Some of the time the reader can intuit what is going on even though March misses the significance, doesn't understand, or doesn't care about it, but not always. March is a tough character to know as his mind is so often completely consumed by trees but occasionally there are glimpses of the people around him, even if March doesn't have insight into how he affects them. The ending was quick and easy, hewing as it had to do, to the outcome of the the real tree in Olympia that inspired this story. The novel is very much an interesting intersection between atypical thought processes and environmental issues all embodied by one boy and Hayes definitely knows how to write. Those who wonder what it might be like to live inside the mind and body of someone with autism, those who want a personal story about the effect that global warming is having on the nature all around us, and those who find an interest in both of those subjects together will certainly appreciate the book.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.