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A haunting, suspenseful literary debut that combines a classic coming of age story with a portrait of a fractured American family dealing with the fallout of one summer evening gone terribly wrong. “The night we left Ellen on the road, we drove up the mountain in silence.”  It is the early 1980s and fifteen-year-old Libby is obsessed with The Field Guide to the Trees of Nort A haunting, suspenseful literary debut that combines a classic coming of age story with a portrait of a fractured American family dealing with the fallout of one summer evening gone terribly wrong. “The night we left Ellen on the road, we drove up the mountain in silence.”  It is the early 1980s and fifteen-year-old Libby is obsessed with The Field Guide to the Trees of North America, a gift her Irish immigrant father gave her before he died. She finds solace in “The Kingdom,” a stand of red oak and thick mountain laurel near her home in suburban Pennsylvania, where she can escape from her large and unruly family and share menthol cigarettes and lukewarm beers with her best friend.  One night, while driving home, Libby’s mother, exhausted and overwhelmed with the fighting in the backseat, pulls over and orders Libby’s little sister Ellen to walk home. What none of this family knows as they drive off leaving a twelve-year-old girl on the side of the road five miles from home with darkness closing in, is what will happen next.  A Crooked Tree is a surprising, indelible novel, both a poignant portrayal of an unmoored childhood giving way to adolescence, and a gripping tale about the unexpected reverberations of one rash act.


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A haunting, suspenseful literary debut that combines a classic coming of age story with a portrait of a fractured American family dealing with the fallout of one summer evening gone terribly wrong. “The night we left Ellen on the road, we drove up the mountain in silence.”  It is the early 1980s and fifteen-year-old Libby is obsessed with The Field Guide to the Trees of Nort A haunting, suspenseful literary debut that combines a classic coming of age story with a portrait of a fractured American family dealing with the fallout of one summer evening gone terribly wrong. “The night we left Ellen on the road, we drove up the mountain in silence.”  It is the early 1980s and fifteen-year-old Libby is obsessed with The Field Guide to the Trees of North America, a gift her Irish immigrant father gave her before he died. She finds solace in “The Kingdom,” a stand of red oak and thick mountain laurel near her home in suburban Pennsylvania, where she can escape from her large and unruly family and share menthol cigarettes and lukewarm beers with her best friend.  One night, while driving home, Libby’s mother, exhausted and overwhelmed with the fighting in the backseat, pulls over and orders Libby’s little sister Ellen to walk home. What none of this family knows as they drive off leaving a twelve-year-old girl on the side of the road five miles from home with darkness closing in, is what will happen next.  A Crooked Tree is a surprising, indelible novel, both a poignant portrayal of an unmoored childhood giving way to adolescence, and a gripping tale about the unexpected reverberations of one rash act.

30 review for A Crooked Tree

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Ooh, a storm is threatening My very life today If I don't get some shelter Ooh yeah I'm gonna fade away - from Gimme Shelter by the Rolling StonesThe 80s, late Spring. Faye Gallagher, a widowed single mother to five, has bloody well had it. Thomas and Ellen will not stop going at each other in the back seat, particularly Ellen, who, although a small 12 year-old, packs a powerful rage, and redirects that weapon at her mother, definitely playing with fire. Mom blows a final gasket and orders her Ooh, a storm is threatening My very life today If I don't get some shelter Ooh yeah I'm gonna fade away - from Gimme Shelter by the Rolling StonesThe 80s, late Spring. Faye Gallagher, a widowed single mother to five, has bloody well had it. Thomas and Ellen will not stop going at each other in the back seat, particularly Ellen, who, although a small 12 year-old, packs a powerful rage, and redirects that weapon at her mother, definitely playing with fire. Mom blows a final gasket and orders her out of the car, five miles from home. Faye then drives on with the rest of her brood, to their house in the Philadelphia suburbs, leaving Ellen to hoof it on her own, just as the sun is setting. This event is the spark that gets the blaze of this story going. Una Mannion - image from her site We see the ensuing events through the eyes of 14-year-old Libby. Each of the Gallagher kids has a particular interest. For Libby it is trees, the product of a cherished book her late father had given her for Christmas, The Field Guide to Trees of North America. I grew up on the edge of a hiking trail surrounded by woods and it was deeply formative for me. When I started writing, I found I kept coming back to those woods and trails. For me it is the site of my first yearnings and loss, the home I can never get back to. It is also a geography that resonates with other stories. We were always conscious not just of the Revolutionary War but the Lenape stories connected to the topography. It felt like hallowed ground and we spent an inordinate amount of time in those woods. It became, for me, an imaginative landscape, a place I can still conjure, the turns of the trail, how the light falls through the canopy, the tree roots that break through the surface. - from the Blue Nib interviewMarie, almost 18, is getting ready to leave the nest, heading for school in Philly in the coming term. Dad had given her the two volume Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. Thomas is 16, highest GPA in his class, a card-carrying nerd, who never cries. He got The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Space. Ellen, possessor of a considerable artistic gift, got a book on Art History, and Beatrice, 7, received a book on dog breeds. It might be that she is a half-sister to the others. Libby’s description of her world is rich with woodsy references. Her arboreal lens permeates the novel. …as I walked toward Sage’s, I listened to the click of crickets at the wood’s edge, the slight whisper of trees, the sounds of the mountain, as if there were another frequency to hear and to be moved by. I wondered if one day I would have the same wrenching longing for this place that my father had for the sounds he’d heard growing up. Pop was out of the picture for too much of her life, divorced from her mother, and then dead way too young, but she remembers him very fondly. He is very reminiscent of Mannion’s Da, in origin and profession. My father, as an Irish immigrant in America, loved literature. He was a landscaper and we’d be in his truck and he’s start reciting something. He’d recite lines from The Deserted Village from Oliver Goldsmith. The Song of Wandering Aengus was also one he recited a lot. My father would have such awe of these words and the power of words to transform you emotionally but also words to transform a situation. - from the Dodging the Rain interview Libby has a bff in Sage, who is, unsurprisingly, given her name, wise beyond her years. She is very fond of quoting the literature of her experience, Rolling Stones lyrics to, herself, transform situations, like a religious person who might be able to dredge up the exact right chapter and verse from a different source. Libby and Sage have a special hangout in the woods, The Kingdom, an off-the-path hideout where they can be their truest selves with each other. I walked down Horseshoe Trail toward the Kingdom, a secret fort Sage and I had made several summers before. Ahead of me was the crooked tree, our marker for leaving the path to circle into the Kingdom from the back, a routine we had so that there would never be a trace of track or footfall for anyone else to find. We imagined that the crooked tree was one of the ones Indians had used as signposts along the trail to signal where there was good hunting or soft ground for shelter. It was an oak that had started to grow upright, but suddenly the trunk made a complete right angle for two or three feet and then grew straight again. Before the Kingdom ever existed, Dad showed me the tree. He said it might have been a marker, but it could also have been caused by a bigger tree falling on the oak when it was young and then over time the bigger tree rotted and fell apart. The young tree survived but was left with this strange shape. So, is Libby the crooked tree of the title? Is Ellen? Are we all bent into odd shapes by our experiences growing up? Mom has a tough time of it all, working as an ER receptionist, having to cope with her kids, while also wanting to get some satisfaction in a social life. The children are not always supervised and this presents some cause for concern, as, if anything bad were to happen to them while she was unavailable, her parental rights might be jeopardized. While it is clear that Faye loves her kids, she is also willing to be absent maybe more than is ok, an element of the author’s life that she has incorporated into several of her works of fiction. I often think I write more about being a child and the absence of a mother and wanting a mother. The earth maybe in a way is mothering me. - from the Dodging the Rain interviewAs the family copes with the collateral effects of Ellen’s abandonment, we follow Libby as she goes through ups and downs with her bff, has to contend with the changes in her adolescent world, tries to figure out who she is and where she fits in, gains awareness of some of the hostile actors in the world, learns to identify who to trust, and maybe channels a bit of Harriet the Spy. Pretty classic coming of age material. It is certainly a world in which secrets, lies, and rumors abound. A nearby house is said to be occupied by a member of the Manson family. There is a very large secret in a family for whom Libby babysits. And she recalls another dark tale from an experience with another family. Many stories have attached themselves to Wilson, a motorcycle-driving young friend of Marie’s who seems too old to be hanging about with the likes of the Gallagher kids. He is the Knight errant here, or is it Knight erroneous? Or is he up to something totally not ok? Libby is highly suspicious of him. (What’s puzzling her is the nature of his game) In short, this is a moving novel, rich with the experience of adolescence, but elevated by the use of Libby’s sylvan perspective. You will want answers to the questions that are raised, and will care about Libby, an everygirl even us guy readers can relate to. We all had uncertainties at Libby’s age, who we are, who we want to be, what is possible, how to deal with our parents, with other kids’ parents, who to trust. You may not always be able to get what you want in a novel, but in A Crooked Tree, you will definitely get what you need. Beside us, the shadows of dogwoods blurred in the dark as my mother kept driving, each tree hemmed in a halo of white where the bracts had fallen. Review posted – 12/18/2020 Publication dates ----------USA - 1/5/2021 - Harper ----------UK – 1/21/2021 – Faber and Faber =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal and Instagram pages Interviews -----2020 - The Blue Nib Literary Magazine - Una Mannion in conversation with Dave Kavanagh -----2017 – Dodging the Rain - Interview with Una Mannion, Award-Winning Author -----2017 - North West Words - North West Words Interview with Una Mannion - Autumn/Winter Issue 8 - page 39 Songs/Music -----Rolling Stones - Jumpin Jack Flash -----Supertramp - The Logical Song Supertramp –plays in Jack’s Datsun as they drive to the towers -----Xray spex - Oh Bondage, Up Yours - Marie and Wilson talk about Poly Styrene -----Rolling Stones - Mother’s Little Helper - re Wilson’s mother’s supply -----Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb - played in a dodgy person’s vehicle -----Rolling Stones - Wild Horses - when Libby goes to see Sage at Sage’s house after the mall run-in with the creep -----AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long - at the towers hangout -----Rolling Stones - She’s a Rainbow - on the car radio after they all get ice cream at Guernsey Cow -----Rolling Stones - Paint it Black after Libby has let slip a big secret and feels sooooo guilty Items of Interest -----Literary Hub - excerpt -----Oliver Goldsmith - The Deserted Village - Libby recalls her father quoting from this poem -----William Butler Yeats - The Song of Wandering Aengus - ditto

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    A mother, at her wits end, with four bickering children in the car decides she's had it. She demands that Ellen gets out of the car to walk the next 5 miles home. Ellen is only twelve years old. What none of this family knows as they drive off leaving a twelve-year-old girl on the side of the road five miles from home with darkness closing in, is what will happen next. Doesn't that sound intriguing? I was all in wondering what happens to this poor girl. Libby, the older sister that narrates the s A mother, at her wits end, with four bickering children in the car decides she's had it. She demands that Ellen gets out of the car to walk the next 5 miles home. Ellen is only twelve years old. What none of this family knows as they drive off leaving a twelve-year-old girl on the side of the road five miles from home with darkness closing in, is what will happen next. Doesn't that sound intriguing? I was all in wondering what happens to this poor girl. Libby, the older sister that narrates the story has a voice that just never resonated with me. I'll be honest and say that this isn't the book that I thought it was going to be and it's my fault. I thought this was going to be a thriller or suspense novel of sorts and it is not that. This is most definitely a slow burn coming of age novel and there is nothing wrong with that but it just wasn't what I was in the mood for at the moment. Again, my fault. 3 stars! Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper for providing me a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anna Luce

    / / / Read more reviews on my blog / / / 3 ¼ stars “That summer when I so desperately tried to reel us all in, I didn't understand the forces spinning us apart.” The opening of A Crooked Tree is certainly chilling. Libby, our fifteen-year-old narrator, is in the car with her siblings. When their squabbling gets too much their mother dumps twelve-year-old Ellen on the side of the road. Hours pass, and to Libby's increasing concern Ellen has yet to arrive. When Ellen finally makes an appearance, s / / / Read more reviews on my blog / / / 3 ¼ stars “That summer when I so desperately tried to reel us all in, I didn't understand the forces spinning us apart.” The opening of A Crooked Tree is certainly chilling. Libby, our fifteen-year-old narrator, is in the car with her siblings. When their squabbling gets too much their mother dumps twelve-year-old Ellen on the side of the road. Hours pass, and to Libby's increasing concern Ellen has yet to arrive. When Ellen finally makes an appearance, something has clearly happened to her. Sadly, the suspenseful atmosphere that is so palpable at the start of this novel gives way to a slightly more predictable coming-of-age. The premise made me think that A Crooked Tree would be something in the realms of Winter's Bone (we have the rural setting, the dysfunctional family, the bond between the siblings). But A Crooked Tree tells a far more conventional story: a summer of revelations (from the realizations that the adults around you have their own secrets to having to say goodbye to the innocence of childhood). While what happened to Ellen certainly has an impact on the storyline, A Crooked Tree is not a mystery or thriller. We follow Libby as she fights and makes peace with her best friend and siblings, we learn of her less than stellar home-life, and, most of all, of her dislike of the neighborhoods' bad boy (this last tread was pretty annoying). I did appreciate how vivid the setting was, from the references to 80s culture to Libby's environment (she is particularly attuned to nature). I also really enjoyed the family dynamics and the unease that permeated many of the scenes. The author succeeds particularly in capturing that period of transition, from childhood to adolescence, without being sentimental. What ultimately did not work for me was Libby herself. She's hella bland. Love for trees aside there was little to her character. While her siblings, bff, and adults around her were fully fleshed out, Libby's personality remains largely unexplored. Her obsession with the 'bad boy' was also really grating and her refusal to see him as anything but bad news didn't ring entirely true. A lot of the observations she makes about the people around her seemed to originate from someone far more mature and insightful than she was (as in, they did not really seem to stem from the mind of a particularly naive 15-year old girl). Elle, although younger, would have made for a more convincing and interesting narrator. Libby...is painfully vanilla. Still, Libby aside, I did find this novel to be engaging, occasionally unsettling, and exceedingly nostalgic. ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    A mother is in the car driving home with her four bickering children, she stops the car and demands that 12 year old Ellen gets out of the car. She drives away leaving her on a dark road 5 miles from home. What happens next when Ellen hitches a lift, sets of a disastrous chain of events that will change this family forever. A great story about family and friendship. I loved how the characters came to life, seeing the connection between the siblings and how they look after each other. An author I w A mother is in the car driving home with her four bickering children, she stops the car and demands that 12 year old Ellen gets out of the car. She drives away leaving her on a dark road 5 miles from home. What happens next when Ellen hitches a lift, sets of a disastrous chain of events that will change this family forever. A great story about family and friendship. I loved how the characters came to life, seeing the connection between the siblings and how they look after each other. An author I will be looking out for. I can’t wait to read her next book. Thank you to Netgalley for my copy in exchange for a review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    ***Happy pub day to one of my favorite reads of 2020! A Crooked Tree is now available 1/5/21!*** Just when I thought I had my top five reads of 2020 well-established, A Crooked Tree came along and foiled all of my plans. One evening, while driving home, a tired single mother of five makes a rash decision that will have profound consequences: She forces her twelve year old daughter, Ellen, out of the car and tells her to walk home the rest of the way. I adored this book. The emotions it conjured we ***Happy pub day to one of my favorite reads of 2020! A Crooked Tree is now available 1/5/21!*** Just when I thought I had my top five reads of 2020 well-established, A Crooked Tree came along and foiled all of my plans. One evening, while driving home, a tired single mother of five makes a rash decision that will have profound consequences: She forces her twelve year old daughter, Ellen, out of the car and tells her to walk home the rest of the way. I adored this book. The emotions it conjured were powerful and the story had me fully intrigued from start to finish. Libby, who was fifteen when the incident occurred, narrates. Her voice, with all its worry, guilt, and sadness, felt overwhelmingly real. The observations she described grasped my heart and made it ache in raw, familiar ways. This is a deeply reflective novel. It’s haunting honesty examines the mess even the most pristine in appearance can be. This book’s tone reminded me of Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, another book I loved and struggled to put down. One defining difference between the two for me was that the ending in this didn’t feel rushed or overly explained. That had been my only disappointment with Krueger’s book (though still a favorite) and I was grateful to find A Crooked Tree satisfied all the way through. Having seen a few misconceptions about this novel noted by other readers, I will warn that this is not a thriller. It is literary fiction with a hint of suspense. Some have also stated that it is a coming-of-age novel. It isn’t that either. We look only at the one summer of Libby’s life. I know how expectations can ruin one’s experience while reading and I want everyone to go in with the right ones. This book deserves no less. A Crooked Tree is a mesmerizing and heart wrenching look at a broken family. I will be very disappointed if it doesn’t win or, at the very least, get nominated for an award in 2021. I’m sad that it’s a debut, as I’m craving more from Una Mannion and there’s no backlist for me to dive into. At the same time, I know I have so much to look forward to, for if a debut is this exceptional, whatever she brings us in the future will surely be magnificent. Thank you to the publisher for my review copy. All opinions are my own. A Crooked Tree is available for preorder now and will be out on January 5, 2021.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stacey-Lea

    I genuinely cannot believe this is a debut. Mannion’s writing is so beautiful and atmospheric, not to mention the amazing ability to ground this story in such a vivid reality. A Crooked Tree is a character driven contemporary that felt so raw and real. This is a story of family, belonging, friendship and resilience narrated through the mind of fifteen-year-old, middle child, Libby as her and her single parent family manage a tumultuous period in their lives. The character growth in this is so we I genuinely cannot believe this is a debut. Mannion’s writing is so beautiful and atmospheric, not to mention the amazing ability to ground this story in such a vivid reality. A Crooked Tree is a character driven contemporary that felt so raw and real. This is a story of family, belonging, friendship and resilience narrated through the mind of fifteen-year-old, middle child, Libby as her and her single parent family manage a tumultuous period in their lives. The character growth in this is so well handled. Libby’s interactions with those around her, from her siblings to her best friend to the single mum she babysits for are so fascinating and truthful. The unsettling moments felt even more riveting and haunting due to this. I absolutely adored the 80s setting and it really helped ground the characters, especially with the references to popular music of the time. I found this most compelling because in our formative years music really is how we relate to the world and it is such a core part of our identities. I’ll be looking out for the next book from Mannion and trusting that I’ll be taken on a magical, dark journey. ARC provided through Edelweiss for an honest review

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    This coming-of-age story is set in the early 80s, in a rural part of Pennsylvania. 15-year-old Libby Gallagher is on a car journey home from school with her mother and four siblings, when an argument breaks out. Younger sister Ellen brings up their dead father, causing their mother to snap and leave Ellen to walk the rest of the way in the dark by herself. Libby is terrified that something dreadful will happen and her worst fears come true when Ellen is picked up by a strange, long-haired creep This coming-of-age story is set in the early 80s, in a rural part of Pennsylvania. 15-year-old Libby Gallagher is on a car journey home from school with her mother and four siblings, when an argument breaks out. Younger sister Ellen brings up their dead father, causing their mother to snap and leave Ellen to walk the rest of the way in the dark by herself. Libby is terrified that something dreadful will happen and her worst fears come true when Ellen is picked up by a strange, long-haired creep they dub Barbie Man. She manages to escape his clutches but not without sustaining some injuries. The whole episode scares the life out of the girls and they fear that Barbie Man will reattempt to harm Ellen. It's not like Libby hasn't enough to deal with already - she's had some disagreements with her best friend Sage, she's trying to figure out boys, and she's still mourning the death of her Dad. It's going to be an eventful summer, to say the least. I've seen a few reviews describe this story as suspenseful, but I'm not sure I agree with that. The villain never felt that real to me, and as he only shows up in a couple of scenes it was difficult to understand what made him tick. His threat seemed exaggerated for the majority of the story, but maybe that's the point, as we are seeing everything through Libby's eyes. What interested me more was the Gallagher family dynamic: how the children coped with the loss of one parent and the failings of another. Her father's passing clearly weighs heavily on Libby, and the longing and regret she feels is quite moving. It's also a very evocative and lyrical account of a summer in an American teenager's life, before mobile phones and internet. A simpler time maybe, but not without its own complications. A Crooked Tree is an impressive debut in lots of ways, and I look forward to reading more from Una Mannion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    3.5 Stars: What drew me to this novel is the premise that a mother kicks out of the car her 12 year-old daughter after the girl was being a bit cheeky. I think we all know of someone who was kicked out of their car as a child. My mother kicked out my 2 brothers on a rural road in South Dakota. I was horrified. But what my brothers did was go through a barbed-wire fence and start walking in the corn fields. The corn was so high that they were disappearing. I screamed at my mother, who did stop, h 3.5 Stars: What drew me to this novel is the premise that a mother kicks out of the car her 12 year-old daughter after the girl was being a bit cheeky. I think we all know of someone who was kicked out of their car as a child. My mother kicked out my 2 brothers on a rural road in South Dakota. I was horrified. But what my brothers did was go through a barbed-wire fence and start walking in the corn fields. The corn was so high that they were disappearing. I screamed at my mother, who did stop, honk the horn and drive in reverse to get the boys. I’m not sure where they thought they were going, but we were a resilient bunch, and it was in full daylight. In “A Crooked Tree”, 15 year-old Libby narrates the story which begins with Ellen being kicked out of the car, 5 miles from home at dusk. And the mother goes home! She leaves a 12 year-old to fend for herself in her Catholic School uniform in the dark! We learn that her mother isn’t the most stable mother. She frequently leaves her five children alone. What broke my heart is that the children were too afraid to seek adult help. They feared their mother. They also wanted to protect their mother. Ellen does get picked up, after hitch-hiking, and needs to throw herself out of a moving car because that was the safest option given the driver was creepy. Plus, she didn’t want her mother to know because her mother would be angry that she hitch-hiked. So basically, when the mother was errant in her maternal duties and something went wrong, she blamed the children. Thus, we have a story of uncertainty. While Libby is a mature 15 year-old, she is confused about what she should tell adults and who she can trust. She fears authority, as many 15 year-olds do, especially while being a teenager. Author Una Mannion does a fabulous job narrating from a 15 year-old’s conflicted and confused mind. Libby is attempting to navigate high school. She’s noticing boys. She’s trying to figure out what is right and wrong. Ellen’s event is traumatic, but Libby soldier’s on through her summer, babysitting and on the cusp of adulthood. The story is really about Libby’s summer during 1981 when no one had cell phones or computers (or few did). It’s a time, pre-technology, in which children did have a few more freedoms. This is a coming-of-age story which will bring you back to those years when you were uneasy, lacking confidence, frustrated, and confused. Libby starts noticing adults, and parents. She compares her life with others, trying to figure out what is “normal” and what is a happy family. I listened to audible production, performed by Sophie Amoss. It was an enjoyable listen. Libby’s narration will take you back to those awkward years.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Popsugar 2021 Reading Challenge: a book set mostly or entirely outdoors. 2021 Reading Women Challenge #18: rural setting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    There's a bitter-sweet vein of nostalgia running throughout Una Mannion's novel “A Crooked Tree”. It's told from from the point of view of Libby who is looking back at a period of her teenage years at the beginning of the 1980s in a rural Pennsylvanian community. She recounts a dramatic incident where her younger sister Ellen is abruptly left on the side of the road when their single mother is driving the family home and gets fed up with Ellen's backtalk. A series of dramatic and frightening eve There's a bitter-sweet vein of nostalgia running throughout Una Mannion's novel “A Crooked Tree”. It's told from from the point of view of Libby who is looking back at a period of her teenage years at the beginning of the 1980s in a rural Pennsylvanian community. She recounts a dramatic incident where her younger sister Ellen is abruptly left on the side of the road when their single mother is driving the family home and gets fed up with Ellen's backtalk. A series of dramatic and frightening events follow on from this. But the story is also suffused with a feeling of yearning for the idle days of her early life and the certainty of being part of a family unit though she realises they were troubled and imperfect times. I felt a kinship with Libby because (though I grew up much later than her) I had a similarly agrestic American childhood filled with long summer afternoons spent in the forest, roasting marshmallows over a fire or sneaking into places I wasn't supposed to with friends. This novel also gives the feeling that we're all lucky to have survived our childhood because it's only in retrospect that we truly understand how precarious life was and how vulnerable we often were in those early years. Read my full review of A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion on LonesomeReader

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bianca

    A Crooked Tree focuses on one summer in the early 1980s in a rural town in Pennsylvania. The narrator is Libby, fifteen years old. Her three sisters and one brother live with their mother, who works as a receptionist in a hospital. The father is deceased. One evening driving home, the mother kicks out the squabbling twelve-year-old Ellen and tells her to find her own way home. This triggers a series of unfortunate events, amplified by the fact that it was kept secret from the adults in charge, so A Crooked Tree focuses on one summer in the early 1980s in a rural town in Pennsylvania. The narrator is Libby, fifteen years old. Her three sisters and one brother live with their mother, who works as a receptionist in a hospital. The father is deceased. One evening driving home, the mother kicks out the squabbling twelve-year-old Ellen and tells her to find her own way home. This triggers a series of unfortunate events, amplified by the fact that it was kept secret from the adults in charge, something that was made easy by the fact that the mother was either at work or sneaking out to meet with her lover, a mystery man that none but the youngest child knew who he was. This is a coming of age novel that deals with family, growing up, grief, friendship in a very realistic way. The writing is straight forward as you'd expect from a fifteen-year-old. I've received this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Faber and Faber for the opportunity to read and review this novel.

  12. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    Una Mannion loves her characters and she does a good job of differentiating the members of the large and complicated family at the heart of this novel. For me though the novel relies a little too heavily on a first-person narrator who is never quite believable to me. The novel is narrated by a middle sister, and she seems to be telling her story from a neutral place, somewhere outside the family. She makes grounded observations of her kin as if she's a side observer and she never quite feels lik Una Mannion loves her characters and she does a good job of differentiating the members of the large and complicated family at the heart of this novel. For me though the novel relies a little too heavily on a first-person narrator who is never quite believable to me. The novel is narrated by a middle sister, and she seems to be telling her story from a neutral place, somewhere outside the family. She makes grounded observations of her kin as if she's a side observer and she never quite feels like she's inside the story herself. This narrative style--one that also relies on the first-person narrator to provide a lot of backstory and exposition, along the way--will probably work well for readers who prefer a straightforward storytelling style and who like their narrators to be reliable. It's not really my preference. I read an e-copy of this novel prior to publication, provided by Harper via NetGalley.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Thoughts soon.

  14. 4 out of 5

    vicki honeyman

    Una, you got me with the first sentence: "The night we left Ellen on the road, we were driving north up 252 near where it meets 2020 and then crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike." I knew instantly this was going to be a page turner and would be about either a dog or a girl. Either way, I was ready. Oh, and it probably would be taking place in the mountains, and it would take place outdoors. Una Mannion, how can this be your debut novel? It's got so much depth to it, yet it's like an old familiar s Una, you got me with the first sentence: "The night we left Ellen on the road, we were driving north up 252 near where it meets 2020 and then crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike." I knew instantly this was going to be a page turner and would be about either a dog or a girl. Either way, I was ready. Oh, and it probably would be taking place in the mountains, and it would take place outdoors. Una Mannion, how can this be your debut novel? It's got so much depth to it, yet it's like an old familiar story. Suspenseful, yes. Empathetic, yes that too. Admiration for nature, totally. Spending time with this small community of young people who are witness to family dysfunctions based on fears and deep needs for privacy is like reading about any neighborhood, USA. The bonds and the bitterness, the grief and anger, the secrets . . . all these emotions are so tenderly expressed — in the voice of coming-of-age teenagers who could have been me or my brothers or my friends. Well done Una.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    A Crooked Tree is going to be a best seller! Libby is an awesome narrator and really provides the insights child narrators often provide. The 80s setting was so real! I kept wanting to make my kids read passages so they knew what it was like growing up in the 80s. The family dynamics created such a forward flowing plot. The bond between the siblings is gripping. Seeing how Ellen and the others treat Beatrice due to her being a half sister is interesting. The lives of the divorced women in book m A Crooked Tree is going to be a best seller! Libby is an awesome narrator and really provides the insights child narrators often provide. The 80s setting was so real! I kept wanting to make my kids read passages so they knew what it was like growing up in the 80s. The family dynamics created such a forward flowing plot. The bond between the siblings is gripping. Seeing how Ellen and the others treat Beatrice due to her being a half sister is interesting. The lives of the divorced women in book make the point of financial status so apparent. Ms. Boucher is a great juxtaposition character to Libby’s Mom. The twists and turns are as crooked as the tree in the book. I read this in two days (and I have three kids) because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next for the teenagers who were in over their heads. I hardly ever give out 5 stars, but I would have given A Crooked Tree 10 stars. This book will make a great limited series or movie! I would like to see the cover redesigned. The winding road on the cover does fit well with the scenery of their neighborhood, but I feel a picture of the neighborhood in the distance with their overgrown grass as Wilson is mowing the lawn might be better. Another option would be a picture of the “Kingdom” with the crooked tree. The other development in the book might be to use more of the comparisons of trees to characters like how Wilson being an allelopathic black walnut tree. Libby would be a blue spruce, etc.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Laguna

    "Everything was beautiful, and for a moment we were held together by our longing to be what we once had been." Gawdddd, this book is gorgeous. I honestly didn't know what I was getting into when I started this one. I thought I was going to be reading a mystery about a missing girl and what I got was an amazingly well-written, beautiful book about a family in the 70s. Libby is the protagonist of the story, which starts with a fateful car ride. It is the last day of school and Libby's mom is drivin "Everything was beautiful, and for a moment we were held together by our longing to be what we once had been." Gawdddd, this book is gorgeous. I honestly didn't know what I was getting into when I started this one. I thought I was going to be reading a mystery about a missing girl and what I got was an amazingly well-written, beautiful book about a family in the 70s. Libby is the protagonist of the story, which starts with a fateful car ride. It is the last day of school and Libby's mom is driving Libby and her four siblings home. Twelve year old Ellen is being a pain in the ass (as twelve year olds tend to do) and her mother finally pulls over on the side of the highway and tells her to walk home. Ellen gets out of the car, and her siblings watch in astonishment as their mother drives away. Ellen does make it home, but the events of that night leave the family forever changed. I'm not sure what to say about A Crooked Tree except that is touching and intense and made me nostalgic, even though I didn't grow up in the 70s. The writing is beautiful and it is hard to believe this is a debut novel. If you enjoy coming-of-age novels you MUST add this to your list. This is my first five star read in awhile and I will be keeping an eye on Mannion as I would love to read anything she writes--grocery lists included. *Please note that the quoted material is from an uncorrected proof and is subject to change.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Yonit

    I couldn't put this one down. Beautifully written with a great sense of setting including 80s song lyrics, this coming of age/thriller portrays a summer in 15 year old Libby's life. Like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon, her mother is barely seen, an obstacle to get around. Her best friend may have betrayed her and the adults are not what they seem. Can't wait to read what Mannion writes next. I couldn't put this one down. Beautifully written with a great sense of setting including 80s song lyrics, this coming of age/thriller portrays a summer in 15 year old Libby's life. Like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon, her mother is barely seen, an obstacle to get around. Her best friend may have betrayed her and the adults are not what they seem. Can't wait to read what Mannion writes next.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Violet

    This is the story of Libby, 14 years old, who is narrating a summer with her mum and four siblings - Marie, Thomas, Ellen and Beatrice. Her father - who had left the home a few years prior - has died a few months ago. Their mum is seeing someone - a mysterious Bill they know little about. Something happens to Ellen at the very beginning of the book, which will have consequences for the whole family, unfolding during the summer break. This is a gorgeous coming out of age story, beautifully writte This is the story of Libby, 14 years old, who is narrating a summer with her mum and four siblings - Marie, Thomas, Ellen and Beatrice. Her father - who had left the home a few years prior - has died a few months ago. Their mum is seeing someone - a mysterious Bill they know little about. Something happens to Ellen at the very beginning of the book, which will have consequences for the whole family, unfolding during the summer break. This is a gorgeous coming out of age story, beautifully written - Libby sees everything, in a detached way, recalls her childhood and the time she spent with her father - an Irish immigrant - working in other people's gardens, walking through the mountains, listening to stories from Ireland. Her mother is depressed, neglectful, a shadow rather than a parental figure. When the incident with Ellen happens, it is teenagers and very young adults who will try to fix it with tragic consequences. The characters are so detailed and feel so personal, it was enjoyable reading their stories - and despite having many characters, it didn't bother me - they all felt different, they all worked. There is a deep melancholy to that story, which is hard to describe without spoiling the book. I really, really enjoyed it. Free ARC from Netgalley.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Claire Fullerton

    A Crooked Tree is a sonorous ode to youth with all its innocence, angst, disillusionment, and unfiltered honesty. Author Una Mannion tells a coming-of-age story in its full expression as told by clear-eyed, 15-year-old Libby Gallagher, the third of five siblings born to a family most would call dysfunctional, yet with Mannion’s deft handling, we experience the family as normal; we accept as plausible the frame of reference in this heart-tugging cause and effect story. Full review in the New York A Crooked Tree is a sonorous ode to youth with all its innocence, angst, disillusionment, and unfiltered honesty. Author Una Mannion tells a coming-of-age story in its full expression as told by clear-eyed, 15-year-old Libby Gallagher, the third of five siblings born to a family most would call dysfunctional, yet with Mannion’s deft handling, we experience the family as normal; we accept as plausible the frame of reference in this heart-tugging cause and effect story. Full review in the New York Journal of Books:https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paulina

    In Una Mannion’s debut novel A CROOKED TREE, a family of six deals with the aftermath of a rash decision one night. Sick of her daughter’s defiance, Faye kicks her 12 year old daughter, Ellen, out of the car 5 miles from their home and tells her to walk home. What unfolds in this novel is how the rest of the siblings and their mom deal with this one decision. Sounds like the beginning of a thriller right? I thought so too. It’s not. And I think this is where some of the critical reviews are comi In Una Mannion’s debut novel A CROOKED TREE, a family of six deals with the aftermath of a rash decision one night. Sick of her daughter’s defiance, Faye kicks her 12 year old daughter, Ellen, out of the car 5 miles from their home and tells her to walk home. What unfolds in this novel is how the rest of the siblings and their mom deal with this one decision. Sounds like the beginning of a thriller right? I thought so too. It’s not. And I think this is where some of the critical reviews are coming from. From reading the back cover, this novel sounds like a thriller, leading to expectations about the novel. A CROOKED TREE actually is a character driven novel with a bit of coming of age vibes. If you shed your expectations of a thriller, then you’ll probably be more satisfied with the novel. While this book is not what I would normally pick up, I still think it is quite well written. There were many times where I was frustrated with the teens for not telling an adult what happened but I probably would’ve behaved the same way at their age if I feared being separated from my family. Mannion portrayed these teenage/tween characters very well and gave them all distinct voices. I felt like I had a great sense of each character even if they weren’t present throughout the entire novel. Mannion really excelled in her characterization. This novel takes place during one summer and although the novel seems a bit slow at times, I like how the author was able to wrap up the events in a satisfying way.

  21. 4 out of 5

    ☕Brenda☕

    Good book that involved family, friendship, adultery, death, dysfunction and the world as a whole. The book was well paced, and kept me wanting more. A solid ⭐⭐⭐⭐ .

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    2.5 stars rounding up. There is very little plot but the characters were well-done and this was really about them. Not great, only good. Nice palate cleanser. Too many uses of the word canopy - started to bug me😑

  23. 4 out of 5

    Toni

    The book opens with a bang - a single mom driving home with her five kids loses her cool on one of them and leaves the kid on the side of the road to walk home as night is approaching. Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite live up to the opening. The book is essentially a pretty classic coming of age story - Libby, the 15 year old middle child of the brood, narrates the summer-long aftermath of this incident. The writing is good but never quite grabs after the opening pages. There is a lot of ex The book opens with a bang - a single mom driving home with her five kids loses her cool on one of them and leaves the kid on the side of the road to walk home as night is approaching. Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite live up to the opening. The book is essentially a pretty classic coming of age story - Libby, the 15 year old middle child of the brood, narrates the summer-long aftermath of this incident. The writing is good but never quite grabs after the opening pages. There is a lot of exposition, some of which feels heavy handed and some of which feels strangely out of place. Libby is mostly an observer so there is very little sense of why she is the one narrating the story and she suffers from being a bit on the boring side. The other character/relationships are thinly drawn. I would have liked a little more of a dive into the mom and maybe a little more consequences for everyone's actions.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. It felt like a missed opportunity to have more character development on the mom I'm this one. I didn't feel a good sense of closure when this one wrappedup. An okay read. It felt like a missed opportunity to have more character development on the mom I'm this one. I didn't feel a good sense of closure when this one wrappedup. An okay read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lyndsey Gilchrist

    Beautifully written book about a dysfunctional family. The characters were all relatable although there were dramatic and emotional elements based on their mothers neglect.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Celeste Miller

    I read this book in a day and thought it was really good overall. I loved the sibling relationships and how they took care of each other. The main character Libby goes through a lot of growth during the story and at times it's jarring to realize what she is not seeing but they I'd remember that she was just a teen. Over the course of a summer Libby's understanding of adults, relationships, and friendships really expands. I think a main theme of this book is that adults are just fallible people t I read this book in a day and thought it was really good overall. I loved the sibling relationships and how they took care of each other. The main character Libby goes through a lot of growth during the story and at times it's jarring to realize what she is not seeing but they I'd remember that she was just a teen. Over the course of a summer Libby's understanding of adults, relationships, and friendships really expands. I think a main theme of this book is that adults are just fallible people too and that when a child learns that it's a growing up moment. There are a lot of difficult subjects in the book too - child abuse, neglect, death of a parent (their father died before the events of the book), and violence. I really cared about the five kids and found myself being nostalgic for my childhood as well, and recognized that even though their situation was not good, they were there for each other and very connected. The author brought in quite a bit of info and stories about the Indigenous people who lived in the area before colonization - she had the kids in the book talk about it and the father talk about in the kids' memories. It made me wonder where that part fit in overall with the main story. In a way they were recognizing the land but they also had some likely incorrect "campfire tales" about the people whose land they were on.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    3.5 rounded down A pacy coming of age novel set in 1980s suburban Pennsylvania, A Crooked Tree follows 15-year-old Libby, a nature obsessed middle child during the fallout of a snap decision by her mother on a dark night in the mountains: Libby's mum flips when driving four of her five kids home, and sends fourth child, 12-year-old Ellen, out into the darkness on a rural road, some miles from home, to walk back by herself. The consequences of this decision play out over the summer, with Libby int 3.5 rounded down A pacy coming of age novel set in 1980s suburban Pennsylvania, A Crooked Tree follows 15-year-old Libby, a nature obsessed middle child during the fallout of a snap decision by her mother on a dark night in the mountains: Libby's mum flips when driving four of her five kids home, and sends fourth child, 12-year-old Ellen, out into the darkness on a rural road, some miles from home, to walk back by herself. The consequences of this decision play out over the summer, with Libby internalising a lot of the emotional turmoil brought about by the change around her and the tensions fraying within her family: her eldest sister leaves home, her mum borderline abandons the remaining three kids (taking the youngest with her to see her new man) and a sinister presence lurks on their doorstep. This was an impressive debut, with some moments which slipped into melodrama - and a main character who was at times a bit insipid - preventing me from rounding up my final rating. Thank you Netgalley and Faber & Faber for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James

    What would you do if you were in the car with your family and your angry mother demands your little sister to get out, and then drives off, leaving her stranded on the side of the road, five or six miles from home, left in the dark? This is the beginning of Una Mannion’s blisteringly atmospheric, tense family drama, A CROOKED TREE. The story unfolds in the events that follow the misfortune of Libby’s younger sister, Ellen. Libby is fourteen years old. She narrates the panic-stricken summer of 198 What would you do if you were in the car with your family and your angry mother demands your little sister to get out, and then drives off, leaving her stranded on the side of the road, five or six miles from home, left in the dark? This is the beginning of Una Mannion’s blisteringly atmospheric, tense family drama, A CROOKED TREE. The story unfolds in the events that follow the misfortune of Libby’s younger sister, Ellen. Libby is fourteen years old. She narrates the panic-stricken summer of 1981 in Valley Forge on the edge of route 252, Pennsylvania. Her elder sister is leaving home, her mother is taking her younger half-sister to camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains, her brother is becoming anti-social at home, escaping into his own world of astronomy, and Ellen is quiet, harmed in ways that might not yet be apparent. Libby is increasingly isolated, and all the while, she has to save her sister, keep her safe from the Barbie Man, from letting anybody know what happened to her. But there’s only so much power a fourteen year old can wield… especially when your friends can no longer be trusted and your family is gone… In this vivid novel, Mannion manages to bridge an exquisitely heartfelt study of familial love and despair, alongside a traumatic coming-of-age tale full of angst, grief, and loneliness. Indeed, few pains and agonies are left out, such that the intensity of narration can be a lot to stomach. But equally, there is a strong taste for freedom, of actual hope for the future, and forgiveness, understanding, the happiness of enduring friendships. There is loss and despair, but conflict is knowing how to deal with it. And Libby is a fighter. She endures. Her struggle is an inspiration to any family individual – which includes most, if not all of us. Highly recommended for readers of literary and commercial fiction. The book has a knife-edge plot as well as rich atmospheric prose, both elements to keep the reader hooked. Young adults may also enjoy this book because it speaks directly to teenagers, but be fully aware of the disturbing subject matter (abuse content).

  29. 5 out of 5

    June Walters

    A Crooked Tree - Una Mannion A wonderful book! I couldn’t stop reading it. The characters were so well thought out and the story was a dream. The story is told from the perspective of Libby, the middle child of a family of five children, and the book revolves around her and her siblings growing up on a mountain in Pennsylvania. An incident in the car returning home from school on the last day of term before the summer break starts a series of events that Libby has to deal with. Brilliant storylin A Crooked Tree - Una Mannion A wonderful book! I couldn’t stop reading it. The characters were so well thought out and the story was a dream. The story is told from the perspective of Libby, the middle child of a family of five children, and the book revolves around her and her siblings growing up on a mountain in Pennsylvania. An incident in the car returning home from school on the last day of term before the summer break starts a series of events that Libby has to deal with. Brilliant storyline, and the writing is superb. In the authors own words “I could see the world described”. More like this please! Would definitely recommend. Thank you NetGalley and Faber and Faber.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    What an awesome debut novel! I will certainly be looking for more stories from this writer Set in the 80s it is a summer that will change everything for one family How one incident can spiral into more trouble than a few teenagers can handle

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