The Secret Tree Book Review

The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 1, 2012

It is the summer before eleven-year-old Minty starts middle school. Stumbling upon a tree that is literally filled with secrets, each one from a child in the neighborhood, Minty begins putting secrets to their owners, but while she does she is forced to see that not all secrets belong to just one person, and sometimes growing up is hard.

Told in a very classic, summer in the neighborhood, kind of way, I find the story to be both idyllic and jarring. Idyllic in the sense that this is a neighborhood in which all the neighbors, child and adult alike, know each other, hang out in each other's kitchens, have picnics, Fourth of July parades, and so on. I grew up in a rather kid friendly neighborhood and although my mother had met other parents it was mostly so she felt comfortable enough to allow us into their houses so we could play video games or barbies. These neighbors were all so friendly with one another, all went to school together (no private school kids or homeschoolers), and it felt so surreal.

The jarring bits had negative and positive aspects. First the positive. Imagine this scene:

A little girl, eleven or twelve, goes over to hang out with her friend. The girl, Sarah, is with a few other girls who keep finding things to make fun of, constantly whispering and laughing at the other girl. Then one of them asks for a drink. The little girl goes inside and when she comes back out, she sees the backs of four girls, on their bikes, laughing as they ride away. The little girl, angry, calls up Sarah to ask what happened and is given a lie. End of friendship. Girl retreats to house and reads.

The little girl above was me and there was a situation uncannily similar to the one described above. So uncanny that I found my stomach clenching into knots while reading it. When I mentioned this scene to a co-worker she too recalled a similar incident that also involved mean girls and bikes. Obviously there are many others out there with similar stories, mean girls who were cruel for no apparent reason. Minty handles the situation with all the grace an eleven-year-old can muster up.

The negative jarring bits had more to do with the mystery of the books, the Secret Tree. Is it really a magic tree? Or do the neighborhood kids just put their secrets in it? Who is Crazy Ike? Was he a real person or a story the kids made up? There was plenty of opportunity for these questions to be answered, never mind the twenty other questions I had, but nothing.

This is a quick read for girls and would be great for pre-teens who are having a hard time dealing with growing up and cruel girls.