Meet Me at the Ghost Tree: A Review of The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry
One of my favorite things to do is wander the book section at Target until I find books that I like. With it being spooky season it takes me all of five minutes to do so since all the horror stories are prominently displayed. This week, I bring you one of these books. Today, I bring you The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry, and boy, do I have thoughts.
The Ghost Tree just came out last month; I’m actually writing a timely review for once! Well…kinda, I’m a month late to the party.
A content/trigger warning is in order. This book deals with horrendous murders of young girls, and it also involves pedophilia. Please continue at your own discretion. As always, a spoiler warning if also in affect.
So let me tell ya a little bit about this book. Set in the 1980’s, this book follows Lauren during the summer before her freshman year of high school. At only 14-years-old, her father was the victim of a vicious murder the year prior and now she consistently fights with her overbearing mother; her adolescence is not treating her well. To top all of that off, Miranda, Lauren’s best friend since kindergarten, is more obsessed with landing an older boyfriend with a cool car.
Again, Lauren’s adolescence is not treating her well.
As it seems so far, Lauren has just been dealt a shitty hand in life. A very shitty hand in life. There is more to this story though. Her father wasn’t just the victim of a gruesome murder; he was the victim of a supernatural murder, one that occurs every fall in the small town of Smith’s Hollow. Typically, a teenaged girl is the victim, so when Lauren’s father is killed the town slowly begins to fall apart at the seams. Layoffs occur all over the small town, angry mobs begin to form, and two girls, who are not from Smith’s Hollow, are found decapitated and torn to shreds in an old lady’s yard.
The book opens with those two bodies being found. I must say, the gruesomeness of this murder is solidly described. This description is not for the faint of heart. It’s the only terrifying one though. I guess hearing the previous year’s victim had his heart ripped out was disturbing, but everything else is very basic. For example, the titular ghost tree is just described as a “tree that looked as if it was struck by lightning” or something to that extent. The descriptions aren’t a strong point in this book.
I don’t have a good idea of what Lauren or Miranda look like. I don’t have a good idea of the layout of this town outside of a few areas. You could tell me that Lauren looks like Ryan Reynolds wearing a pigtailed, blonde wig and I would believe you. All I know is that Lauren dresses pretty comfortably and likes bright colors while Miranda believes herself to be in her early 20’s even though she’s only 15.
The personalities of these girls aren’t fleshed out either. The personalities of any character aren’t fleshed out. Everyone in this book is pretty much a static stereotype. We have Miranda who is a child trying to act like an adult. There is Karen, Lauren’s overbearing, often times mean mother. Then there’s Jake who is the cool older boy that Lauren likes. And you can’t forget about Mrs. Schneider, the bigoted old woman you would love to punch.
These aren’t all the characters though. Nay, nay. There are a good two dozen characters you have to remember in this book. I haven’t even brought up Lauren’s little brother David or any of the town’s police force or the mayor. There are just too many characters in this book to keep track of. It doesn’t help that the author will mention a character in the beginning of the book, and then won’t mention them again for half the book. I spent a lot of time trying to remember who certain characters were because they had disappeared for chapters upon chapters.
The only ones I really were able to remember were Lauren, Miranda, David, one of the cops named Alex Lopez, Mrs. Schneider, and Karen. Everyone else was a mystery half the time. Especially considering some of the characters are referred to by multiple names throughout the book. Either write less characters or make them more memorable! Even if the character ends up being a shitty person, I’d prefer that to not being able to remember them.
Speaking of shitty people, let me introduce you to one of the worst characters in the book. His name is Officer Hendricks. Remember when I said this book deals with pedophilia? Yeah, this is that asshole. Truly, the use pedophilia is unnecessary. The only thing it offers to the plot is an anticlimactic reveal at the end of the book. It’s disturbing, it made me feel uncomfortable while reading this book. And the way that Henry presented this topic made it feel like a punishment for a teenaged girl’s sexual awakening.
Miranda is a very tragic character. As I’ve said, she tries to act older than she is, she’s young and naïve in ways, and she’s taken advantage of by Hendricks because of that. She’s Lauren’s foil, and it feels like Miranda is written this way just to make Lauren seem like a better character because she’s virtuous. The girls feel pitted against each other, and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
The relationship Lauren has with Jake also leaves a horrible taste in my mouth. Again, Lauren is 14, almost 15, years old. She is a child! Jake is 18-years-old. He is an adult! It’s one thing for Lauren to have a crush on Jake, that is no big deal. What is a big deal is when Jake follows Lauren into the woods one day to ask her on a date. Jake is a legal adult and is asking a minor on a date. An adult is following a minor into the woods to ask her on a date. No, no, no, no, no! Just no. And this pair is supposed to be the couple readers hope get together in the end.
Seriously, what is going on in this book? The red flags are large and in charge with this book. Children, if an adult is into you, run the other way! Don’t talk to them. Nothing good can happen in that sort of situation.
I do have positives with this book. The lore and history of the town is spot on. Around a third of the way in to story, Lauren sits down with her grandmother who proceeds to tell her granddaughter their family history. I won’t spoil this part of the book, but I will say it is full of witches, love, revenge, murder, and curses; it’s pretty great.
Seriously, this history is engrossing. It’s told in a style that makes it feel like you’re sitting around a fire telling tall tales and urban legends. The best part about this campfire type story was that it didn’t stop the plot of the book. It wasn’t like the story stopped for another story. The way this lore was presented was done so in an organic way that didn’t hinder the book.
Sadly, I think this background on the history of the town is the only thing I genuinely liked about this book. The ending was extremely anti-climatic; the monster is defeated in the span of like two pages. There is a lot of build up with murders, spotty police work, angry mobs, and all to a let down of an ending.
The back of book synopsis was so promising. This could have been a chilling spooky season read, but instead I got red flags out the wazoo. I would not recommend this book unless you want to be made uncomfortable in a really bad way.