Cover Image: A Crooked Tree

A Crooked Tree

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I loved this book. For some reason I was put off from beginning it at first, maybe as I was unsure about exactly what the story was going to be. Was it going to be the beginning of some dismal story about an unhinged mother neglecting her kids - or worse?

In fact it's in lots of ways an uplifting story about growing up.

Told from the perspective of Libby, the book very quickly transports you into how the world looks when viewed from the eyes of a teenager. There are obviously many problems in her family. The book begins with a row escalating in the car, with Libby's mother ending up leaving her sister Ellen by the side of the road because she is so furious with her.

This episode leads to a chain of events that sets the plot for the whole book. But alongside the story is the tale of how Libby is making sense of the world and her relationship to other people in it.

Libby and her siblings have lost their father, who died a year or so earlier. There are many passages where she remembers episodes from their life with him and it's clear that she is feeling a huge sense of loss. I found her memories of him and her and her siblings' regrets about things they wished they had said to him very moving.

Libby also has a strained relationship with her mother Faye. At first glance - and from reading the blurb - you could be forgiven for thinking her mother is the 'bad' character here. 

But while it's clear she has problems communicating her love for her children, as the book develops it seems Faye is a more complicated character. And there are hints that Libby's dad didn't always treat her as well as he could have done, highlighting the difficulties young people face in coming to terms with the real characters of people they love.

It can feel quite nostalgic at times, but that isn't a bad thing. And it's written in a way that is straightforward and uncluttered. Things don't need to be exaggerated because they are striking enough as they are.

This is a book that I think will have something for everyone. It's about how important friendships are. And the sense of time passing that you will never get back, of people moving on and of missing them, will resonate with many people.
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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.
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I wanted to like this book, i loved the idea of the story when i read the synopsis. However when actually reading this book i did not enjoy it and it pains me to say this. I dont know why the characters did not gel with me but i didnt love the writing style and the descriptive language.
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An appealing story that combines nostalgia for the innocence of childhood with an ache for how this particular family is trying to make its way. Added to this is the sense of imminent danger that permeates every page. It's clear that not every element of the story is going to end well, but very difficult to predict which will and which won't.
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Yes, A Crooked Tree is a beautifully-written, mature novel that it's hard to believe it is a debut.

However, it is not a mystery that I was expecting, more of a coming of age book, set in Pennsylvania 1970s and 80s.

Lots of family interaction, but there were too many times the story seemed to drift off somewhere, and I struggled.

Thanks to Net Galley and Faber & Faber for the chance to read and review the book.
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Libby, her mother and her four siblings live in a mountain community in Pennsylvania. The  recent death of their father has left a gaping hole in the family with which they are struggling to come to terms and tensions occasionally surface.  On the journey home from school one day, Their mother loses patience with Ellen, stops the car at the side of the busy highway and tells Ellen to get out and walk the several miles home.  Ellen’s unfortunate experience on the way home  is central to the story and provides the platform for a sensitive exploration of relationships within the family and with friends. 
This is a wonderful book.  The characters are well drawn and the narrative is compelling. However, it is certainly not action packed so if that is your bag, look elsewhere.
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This wasn’t the book I thought it would be from the blurb. I thought I would be reading a thriller/mystery but it was more a coming of age young person’s story that although I appreciated I did feel a bit let down.  The motivations of some of the characters were dubious and I couldn’t really connect with any of them. There were too many unresolved sub-plots for me. I appreciated the backstory of the dead father though. This wasn’t a bad book but it wasn’t a standout, remember forever book either.
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I really enjoyed being transported to Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 80s. The story and journey felt genuine and easy to imagine, like I could see it as a coming-of-age film. I found it difficult connecting with the main character, but I think that’s because I would have made different choices and had different sentiments towards Wilson, had I been in her position. I also liked how the story included memories of her father and were woven in throughout.
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You are instantly transported to suburban Philadelphia at the start of the summer of 1980.   Mannion’s ability to create characters and spin a tale can only make me hope there are more Books in the works.

Really enjoyed this book and made me think long after reading it too which is a bonus.
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I absolutely loved this coming of age tale. Mannion does such a good job of capturing a moment in time. A family a odds and broken, all through the eyes of Libby, who I felt sympathy for and with and enjoyed my journey with her. The interesting moment for me was when another character identifies someone may be interested in Libby romantically and I was as shocked as she was! But then it all made sense. I had been brought into this world and was walking with its people. Great piece of literary fiction. Recommended.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.
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Mannion’s literary debut introduces a dishevelled America family dealing with the consequences of an imperfect mother's humble mistake. Set in 1980s America we follow 15-year-old Libby, who is dealing with the loss of her Irish immigrant father, and her reaction towards her mother's mistake and the events that follow.

I cannot believe this is a literary debut, I loved it - definitely a 5 star read! Whilst it is quite a slow burner, I really resonated with all the characters and found them perfectly developed. It perfectly blends a gripping page-turner with a humorous coming of age novel (I particularly enjoyed Libby and Wilson’s relationship). I really loved the reference to the 80s culture and politics within America and also the subplots of American marriage. 

Some would view Libby to be quite bland in terms of narrative style but I found her really relatable and enjoyed her perceptions. Libby’s observations are first hand and raw and I really like that. I loved this and will be disappointed if it doesn’t win an award in 2021.
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The story line centres around a 1980's dysfunctional family and the community they live in. This is a coming of age tale but the premise of a mystery was quite slow moving and  the book didn't quite live up to the hype.
My thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This is a simply stunning coming-of-age story set in a landscape so foreign to what I myself know, in the rural mountain area of Pennsylvania, Valley Forge, where the lives of the Gallagher children seem so poverty stricken and hard. Ellen their mother is remote and often away working or with 'secret' lover Bill. Even when she is home she is not emotionally present for her brood of children and spends a large part of her time in her room. The children really raise and support one another, and in A Crooked Tree we follow Libby in her endeavours to keep her sister Ellen safe after a very traumatic encounter that only came about because their mother stopped the car, made Ellen get out, and make her way (a long way) home by herself. This in itself is hard to comprehend and as a reader I was taken aback by the enormous burden the Gallagher youngsters have to manage by themselves.
The book is sheer poetry with amazing descriptions of the area, the people and the lifestyle the family have. We learn of a now dead father whose roots were back in Ireland and feel the pain and sadness his absence has had on the family. There is an astonishing and breath-taking attention to detail, so that whatever Libby and her siblings are feeling, it is incredibly natural and effortless to be sharing those same emotions as you read.
Touching, tender, sorrowful and frightening, Libby shares her fears with older best friend Sage as she struggles to understand what is happening with the adults around her, especially Wilson McVay who appears to be everywhere she is, 'helping' the family and adding to Libby's unease. Just where does Mrs Boucher for whom she babysits go, and why was Dr Grady Adams (Sage's father) so shaken when he hit a deer? There is such a strong sense of adversity and the need for Libby and her siblings to keep everything to themselves during a summer that seems charged with foreboding.
However, whatever the adults are keeping hidden, what happened to Ellen could turn out to cause far more trouble for the young people by not confiding in anyone, and left to their own devices, will they be safe?
The dialogue added another layer to the already vivid characterisation of Marie, Thomas, Libby, Ellen and Beatrice and the location provided an eerie sense of isolation and menace, not to mention Barbie Man, a sinister and shadowy presence looming over them all. Will their mother be able to love and protect her children or will events have a way of changing things forever?
A compelling and atmospheric read that is definitely going to be a highlight of 2021's book offerings. A book I would recommend again and again to anyone and everyone and one that I am so very thankful (to Pigeonhole and Una Mannion) to have been able to read.
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The story opens with the children's mother being exasperated by her 12 year old daughter Ellen's bickering. She orders her from the car miles from their rural hillside home. The other siblings, especially the narrator, 15 year old Libby are horrified. Libby is so worried about  her sister and can't settle when they arrive back home. When Ellen arrives back home she knows something happened to her.

What follows is a summer of change and coming of age. Their mother's mind is elsewhere, Libby misses her dad and the family unit, her older sister moves out, her only constant, her best friend Sage seems different and she finds out something about the local woman she babysits for which in turn causes repercussions that there's no going back from...

I absolutely loved the storylines and characters and highly recommend. One of my favourite books this year
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"A Crooked Tree" is set at the beginning of the 1980s and centres around a dysfunctional family and their surrounding community. I was really invested in the kids. Una Mannion has a distinctive voice and her writing is evocative. There's a fair bit of description of the setting in the book and whilst it's done very well, it's not really my bag. I loved the musical and cultural references. I also particularly appreciated how the book highlights that there is a difference between being an empath and having heightened awareness due to PTSD.
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I’ll be honest -this book was not what I was expecting at all. From the blurb I assumed that this book was going to be a thriller and suspense type story, but it’s actually a coming of age tale. 

This book had a lot of sub plots happening but I felt as though none of them were ever really wrapped up satisfactory which left me a bit disappointed at the end.
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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. 

The sense of yearning in this story is emphasized by the undercurrent of mourning Libby feels since her proudly-Irish father died. She frequently recalls memories of their time together in a way that sours any pleasure she has in the present. His notable loss combined with their mother's frequent absence since she has a long-term secret lover means that Libby and her siblings must rely more on each other for guidance and support. There's a grudging sense of forgiveness expressed when Libby recalls her mother and thinks “I knew she loved us in the way that she could.” These circumstances mean that Libby's persistent emotionally-closed nature makes sense and, though it's frustrating to read about the many instances where she should have been honest about her feelings and been loyal to her friend Sage, I understand her compulsive need for privacy and secrecy.

Though it was realistic and relatable, the trouble with this story was that it too often meandered in a way which sometimes felt tedious. The dramatic tension from Ellen being left on the roadside and what happens to her directly after quickly sputters out as there's an extended amount of speculation about whether or not there will be dangerous and larger consequences. This allows time for Libby's world to be atmospherically evoked but, like the day-to-day life of many teenagers, it's not very interesting. I could definitely relate to this but it reminded me of how boring and insubstantial those days were. When the ultimate results of the initial incident finally play out it feels more melodramatic and forced than meaningful. This is a shame because I mostly enjoyed Mannion's writing and how she evoked the texture and feeling of this troubled working class family's life. I'll definitely be interested to read any of the author's future publications but as a debut novel this book didn't pack quite the punch I wanted.
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‘The Crooked Tree’ is a must read and an astounding debut!
It is set in the 1980s and told through the experiences of fifteen year old Libby whose family has faced highs and lows. One night Libby’s twelve year old sister, Ellen, is told to get out of the car after an argument with their mother. The family drives off leaving Ellen on the side of a dark and twisty road and five long miles to walk home. 
I love the style in which Una Mannion’s writes and reminded me a lot of the ‘The virgin suicides’ which is one of my favourite all time books. The narrative picks up all those little details that create a full and vivid scene but also makes it perfectly believable that you are seeing the world through the eyes of a troubled fifteen year old girl. 
After reading the initial description of ‘Crooked Tree’ I had expected a darker genre but I really enjoyed that this novel follows the chilling repercussions that not only change Libby and Ellen but the lives of so many people around them. 
I could not stop reading this book and cannot wait to see what’s next for Una Mannion.
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This is an interesting and enjoyable storyline by Una Mannion. A Crooked Tree is a story of Libby and her family and the events that happened over one summer in a rural community. Her sister Ellen was told to get out of the car when they were on their way home, their father had died and their mother was bringing them up on her own. and she has had enough that evening. The mother goes out and Ellen hasn’t come home yet. Libby has to go and babysit for one of the neighbours and Libby appears at the neighbour’s home hours after her mother left her on the road, she has gotten into a strangers car and then had to jump out of it.
The events of that summer changes the family’s history and left changes for ever after the events of that summer. It is in many ways a coming of age story for Libby and her friends and family A very vivid story of a life in a mountainous community when you are becoming a teenager one summer.
Highly recommended.
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A Crooked Tree is such a beautifully-written, engrossing, masterly novel that it's hard to believe it is a debut. There is such a deep sense of place and time, with that incredible decor of the mountain, its woods, its sun bowl where all the local kids gather, all of this imbued with the particular atmosphere of the 1970s. Libby is the kind of narrator you only meet in the best coming-of-age novels, flawed, a little bit lost, but full of love and intense feelings in a way that will undoubtedly remind every single reader of their own teenage years. This is the story of so many families, so many siblings, so many kids who have experienced loss and/or violence far too young, but have grown stronger from it. A heartbreakingly beautiful novel, full of sisterly and brotherly love, of rare friendships, and of empathy and understanding for the imperfect human beings we all are.
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