A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion is a coming of age story that is told through the lens of Libby Gallagher. Libby is forced to grow up fast when her sibling faces a traumatic experience that changes everyone’s lives. In this story, you’ll feel anxious, sad, joyful, and more. There are so many pieces to this story that by the end you can’t help but have more questions. Let’s take a look at the basics.
The story starts off with the Gallagher family in the car – Marie, Thomas, Libby, Ellen, Beatrice, and their Mother. Ellen and their Mother are intensely arguing about a Summer art camp that Ellen wants to go to. Ellen won’t let up and their Mother gets fed up. She demands that Ellen get out of the car and walk home. Sure, it’s the 80’s so it’s a different time. However, even Libby who loves the outdoors, knows that this isn’t safe. They live up a windy road on a hill and it’s getting dark. But she gets out the car and the family drives off. All of the siblings are worried and out looking for her until she shows up bruised and bloody. This is where we find out about Barbie Man. Without giving away the story, I’ll briefly go through each character.
Marie – She’s the oldest of the Gallagher clan and she’s a punk rock badass. Since they don’t want their Mom to find out about what happened to Ellen, Marie takes control. She holds the role of calming down Libby and making sure that Ellen is safe. Marie then calls in Wilson McVay, the local badboy to help her out.
Wilson McVay – Everyone in their neighborhood is pretty much scared of Wilson McVay. If they’re not scared of him, they’re definitely whispering behind his back. He lives with his Dad who can be abusive and he gets into a lot of trouble. When he see’s Ellen hurt he seeks a vengeance on the Barbie Man and wants to ensure that he never hurts a little girl again. Though he has good intentions, he goes about it the wrong way and put a target on his own back.
Libby – She’s the main character and we learn a lot about her and her family through her stories and recollections of past years. She is very protective over her siblings and she loves hard. This includes her friendship with Sage who she enjoys going into the woods with. Their “Kingdom” is almost like a sanctuary of escape from life and where we learn the meaning of a crooked tree. Libby is also willing to do whatever it takes to make Ellen feel safe again while finding a friend in one of the most unlikely of people.
Thomas – He’s the only boy in a family of Women and he’s also a bit of a nerd. You can almost sense his need to take care of the Women in his family but always feeling like he’s still falling short. It isn’t until he learns about what happened with Ellen that he teams up with Wilson to show how much of a hero he can actually be.
Ellen – She’s at the heart of the story. If it wasn’t for her walking home that night and getting in the car with the Barbie Man, everything would be different. But it was dark and she was tired so of course she took the free ride. She claims that he didn’t attack or assault her and that her bruising was from jumping out of the car. However, when the Barbie Man comes back in town, she is frighteningly skittish around him considering he never did anything to her.
Beatrice – She is the youngest of the siblings and definitely treated differently. Their Mother, who divorced their Irish Father became pregnant shortly after with Beatrice. Their father always treated Beatrice as his own, but he knew the real truth and so did the other siblings. She was Bill’s daughter and now their Mother was sneaking around with Bill whenever she could while taking Beatrice with her.
Barbie Man – Just by his description you can only imagine what he looks like. He is the one who picks up Ellen when she’s walking home and obviously he is scary enough to make her want to jump out of a moving car. When Wilson seeks his vengeance, Barbie Man comes back to where it all began and wants his own revenge. But with him back in town, things will only get messier.
A Crooked Tree is a whirlwind of suspense and keeps you guessing what will happen next. I will have to say that my one small critique is that in the storytelling, she often goes on tangeants with her thoughts. It definitely helps to shape the story, however, it really can be distracting from the main story at hand. The character development is on point as you can see from how many characters there are to keep track of. But, that also makes comprehension a little trickier. Remembering their names and where they’re at in the story is just one more part of it.
Overall, I do recommend reading A Crooked Tree especially if you enjoy coming of age stories with grit and emotion. Just make sure you read it slow and take it all in because there is a lot that you can easily miss.