Title: The Suffering Tree
Author: Elle Cosimano
Genre: Paranormal (with some Historical Fiction Flashbacks)
Length: 368 pgs
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Pub date: June 13, 2017
Source: A digital copy was provided via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The short version: While I liked the story itself, I had a lot of issues with this book. The synopsis seemed interesting, but did very little to prepare me for the majority of the book.
The long version: Honestly, I feel this book should have come with some sort of trigger warning. Seriously, if you are sensitive to self-harm topics, I would pass on this book (and probably the next four paragraphs).
Some of the self-harm scenes are really in-depth, especially the ones right in the beginning; you know, the ones readers are utterly unprepared for. I think I understand what the author was trying to get at: this idea that we’re haunted by pasts that are sometimes out of our control, and we sometimes go to extreme measures to get past it. And I will say, I think the reason behind Tori’s self-harm is portrayed realistically: she’s a person who has felt a lot of emotional pain and sometimes has the need to feel in control of some of that pain. The fact that self-harm was in the book isn’t what bothered me.
What does bother me is the way it is portrayed. For starters, there is absolutely no warning anywhere. Not in the synopsis or even in any of the pages before the story actually starts. I was completely caught off-guard when, a few pages into the story, I’m reading a rather in-depth cutting scene. It was a little heart-breaking, and if someone who was struggling with self-harm were to read it, I would honestly be a little nervous about how they would react.
Thing #2 that bothered me about it is that it is sometimes sort of rewarded. The first time Tori cuts, a beautiful boy comes out of his grave. Later in the story, she gets all kinds of romantic attention from him because of her scars and wounds. And in the end, she cuts herself, and it saves the boy she has mysteriously fallen in love with. To be fair, if it weren’t for the next problem I had with it, these probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much. That’s only three “rewards” out of an entire book of often solid storytelling, and you could argue that they’re a little far fetched, but combined with my next problem, it just ground my gears.
Issue #3 I had with the representation of self-harm is that it is never actually resolved. Tori is still (somewhat regularly) cutting herself, and adamantly refusing any sort of help as the story wraps up. Then, the final few pages skip forward about six months, and suddenly she’s like, “Oh yeah, I don’t do that anymore.” It never showed her struggling with the healing process, never showed the people in her life trying to support her through it, never showed the triumph of finally succeeding after seeking the help she actively avoided, but desperately needed. It’s just, one minute she’s in a bad place, and the next, it’s all okay. If you’re going to write a protagonist who self-harms, please at least show them getting to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, so your readers know they’re not alone when they struggle to heal.
Even after that (rather long) rant, I still had some issues with the story. The supporting characters were pretty weak; we really only get in the heads of Nathaniel and Tori. Which frustrated me because we really didn’t get to see much into the more diverse characters. There was a bad case of “boy fixes everything;” Tori is all doom and gloom until Nathaniel shows up, and suddenly she remembers how to smile. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s insta-love, but I will say if a boy bruises me pretty badly in the process of rising from the grave, I’m not about to hide him in my shed and dress him in my late father’s clothes.
I know I should probably wrap things up, so I’ll leave it at this: I thought this book had a good premise, and it had some pretty strong elements (I didn’t DNF, after all). While I was sometimes frustrated with Tori, I found her story compelling and, at times, heart-breaking. But, between the self-harm, weak supporting characters, and a few other cliche issues, I found the actual meat of the story to be problematic. I would be incredibly cautious about recommending this book.
Overall, I gave this book 2 stars:
Thanks for reading! Do you plan on reading this book? Have you already read it and have some different thoughts? What do you think about books tackling tough issues? Let me know in the comments below!