“There was one particular tree…with branches that curled like sharp claws looking for skin to scrape. All the townsfolk had avoided that tree, for it wasn’t right that a tree seemed to whisper and stare and reach out when a person passed by.“
TITLE & AUTHOR: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry
FIRST PUBLISHED : September 8th 2020, by Berkley Books
MY RATING: 2/5
When the bodies of two girls are found torn apart in the town of Smiths Hollow, Lauren is surprised, but she also expects that the police won’t find the killer. After all, the year before her father’s body was found with his heart missing, and since then everyone has moved on. Even her best friend, Miranda, has become more interested in boys than in spending time at the old ghost tree, the way they used to when they were kids.
So when Lauren has a vision of a monster dragging the remains of the girls through the woods, she knows she can’t just do nothing. Not like the rest of her town. But as she draws closer to answers, she realizes that the foundation of her seemingly normal town might be rotten at the center. And that if nobody else stands for the missing, she will.
I may have mentioned my first encounter with Christina Henry somewhere on my blog, but I never did a review because I DNF’ed her book The Mermaid. It was just too boring, the writing style was just bland and nothing happened for the first 50% of the novel, and that book was a dark retelling of The Little Mermaid, which is, like, MY THING, but add in the creepiness and P.T.Barnum and it becomes even more of a “Marina” thing. But I didn’t like it. I couldn’t. Even with all the things I usually adore. I should have taken that as a hint.
A big hint. Because maybe it’s not me, it’s Christina Henry, or her writing style. I don’t like it. I didn’t like The Ghost Tree either and I’ll try to explain why without being rude. First of all, I disliked the writing style, which is, like in the case of The Mermaid, just simple and bland, I didn’t see anything special in it or I’d have given it an extra star. A book can be great with mediocre writing but with good plot and characters, but in my opinion The Ghost Tree failed in both areas.
The plot is cheesy, over the top cliché we’ve heard/read/seen like a 1000 times before. There’s a small town in which each year a young girl goes missing, and then everyone seems to forget about the missing girl except a few people who keep the secret safe because EVIL. Then our main character, Lauren, a teen, starts to suspect something as two girls are found dead and dismembered and she suddenly has a vision about those same girls. The scene where the girls were found was unnecessarily gory, and yes, you’ve heard that from me. I absolutely don’t mind gore, in fact I tend to watch a lot of very disturbing movies. (I am a normal person, I promise). So if I say the scene was gory for no purpose at all other than to be gory and shocking, that means something. It means the scene is completely unnecessary.
Once Lauren starts having psychic visions she doesn’t understand, and once she starts suspecting these killings are somehow connected to her father’s murder a few months back, she tries to confide in her best friend Miranda, and her grandma who has a lot to hide. Miranda isn’t helpful, you’ll see why later, and through grandma we get some lore behind this story. In an interesting book, this part would have been my favorite, but here it was SO cliché and plain stupid I barely even read it. It’s basically a story within a story, and I’m not spoiling anything if I say it’s a generic fairy tale. You can input keywords into a program and get that same story in return. So, at this point, Lauren understands some things better and she realizes she might be in danger, her brother and Miranda might be in danger, actually everyone is in danger, because this book sets certain rules and then breaks them for no reason at all.
The writing and the plot were a complete failure if you ask me, but what was the rotten cherry on top were the characters. I was a rebellious teen. I dated junkies, ran away from home and some other things I’m not proud of. More importantly, throughout all that I was a scumbag to my mom who was a single parent of three kids. I am ashamed of that but I’m saying this because I know what it’s like, the constant yelling and screaming and fighting, when you just know you’re oh so right and misunderstood (not), but this book picks up ALL of the annoying teens you’d slap across the face with a brick and puts them in Lauren. What’s even worse, her mother is EVEN WORSE. Lauren is a total cliché of a misunderstood teen and her mother is a spit image of a controlling mother who just doesn’t understand. This is somehow amplified in the audiobook, because I’ve literally had to listen to one woman doing the voices of two (very badly), fighting with each other. I felt like I was in the middle of a reality TV drama and only my nerves of steel made me go on.
Now to the third annoying character in this novel, and let’s face it, ALL characters are super annoying, even the sweet kid (Lauren’s baby brother) who, how original, can’t speak pwopewly. It’s Lauren’s best friend Miranda, who is fourteen I think, but wants to have sex with every boy or man in the vicinity. So, in order to reach her ultimate goals (sex), she rubs against men, constantly squishes her boobs and insinuates dirty stuff. And the men around her are an epitome of stupidity because they don’t seem to pick up on the signals. I’m absolutely not a prude, but Miranda is just over the top.
Each and every character in this novel is a caricature, an over-the-top cliché we’ve seen a 1000 times before. There is even an angry racist spinster, who in the style of “they took our jobs” tries to get rid of a Mexican family living down the street. *intense eye-roll* Now, to all that I’ve said, add a totally fake and extra 80s vibe, which is accentuated by referencing 17 stuff from the eighties by page 17. I won’t say the C word yet again, but you know what I’m getting at. All of that is just too much, and it makes this book an annoying teen paranormal drama without any purpose other than to entertain those who can be entertained by this, and if you do possess the nerves to do so, I applaud you! My nerves are long gone, and I cannot afford to force myself through a lousy book but I did so anyway because the author made an effort to write it, and I felt it’s the least I can do.
You know I am always 100% transparent and truthful, so I can’t and won’t lie and say anything positive about this book, because I didn’t see anything in it. I didn’t see any literary quality whatsoever, but we all know we can enjoy a book which is written purely for entertainment purposes, like we watch the movies which are made solely to entertain. But this book wasn’t entertaining for me. It was annoying, like a screaming teenager who is its main character, and it made me regret ever picking it up. Why 2 stars then? I reserve the one ugly star for books which are a true abomination. Books that are badly written, or that hurt with their words, or books that don’t make any sense. The Ghost Tree has every ingredient of a good novel – they just weren’t used properly. The characters lack depth, the plot lacks ingenuity and heart, and the writing could be spruced up. I know Henry wrote the popular Alice retelling novels, and I still, disregarding my two Herculean efforts at liking her, plan to give her a third chance and read Alice. I hope I don’t regret it, but I don’t expect much either.
Christina Henry is the author of the Chronicles of Alice duology, Alice and Red Queen, a dark and twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook, an origin story of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.
She is also the author of the national bestselling Black Wings series (Black Wings, Black Night, Black Howl, Black Lament, Black City, Black Heart and Black Spring) featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle.
She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.