The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred

Publication Date: November 1st, 2005
Ellora’s Cave
Format: Kindle Edition
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans-everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.
Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick’s abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer. Suddenly, Nick is gone-leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick’s abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she’s starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she’s content if not happy — until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter.
He’s back…and he’s not alone. Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she’s built around her emotions-the truth about Frank Anderson’s death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.

This book is so beautiful, I wish I wrote it.

The plot is simple enough: little girl with a big heart felt for the abused, lonely boy. Over the years, they’ve developed a friendship so strong, the transition from platonic to something deeper made sense, predestined, even. And yet, regardless of the simplicity of the plot, this book is far from forgettable. Even now, a day after I shelved this book, I have this longing to read it all over again. It’s the combination of innocent love and fierce passion that made the romance so…absolute, so intense and so memorable.

Told through Alix’s POV, the story spanned years of when they first met as kids right through adulthood. Their upbringing couldn’t have been any different. Alix grew up protected, loved, and cared for, while Nick grew up with an abusive drunk who only ever recognize his son when he needed a punching bag. It was during one of those aftermaths that Alix met Nick. It was the welts on his back and the sadness in his eyes that drew her to Nick. In her innocence, she tried to comprehend why anyone would lay a hand on a little boy just two years her senior. From then on, she made it a mission in life that Nick was cared for.

Through the years, their friendship became more. But Nick held back, because he knew Alix deserved someone better than him, someone with a lot more to offer. The heart wants what it wants and neither of them were really willing to stay away from each other. A secret relationship began that involve them being with other people. One fateful night shook their already fragile relationship, leaving Alix pining for the man who would always be her one and only, regardless of how much she wanted to deny it. Fifteen years later, Nick stood in front of her –  a man on a mission to correct a wrong, to tell her his secrets and finally live the life he wanted with Alix. But Alix was not so quick to forgive and forgetting the hurt she went through would be even harder.

For a book of 314 pages, I never thought that it would cover their detailed history. I was surprised that the author covered what mattered the most without inundating us with useless information. I also liked the fact that she captured the facets of the South without being too intricate. Her characters evolved through the progression of time. You’d notice their innocence, their curiosity, right up to when life disillusioned them into who have they become.

Their relationship was fierce at best; tumultuous at their worst. Secrets – mostly on Nick’s side almost killed it. And though I understood why he did what he did to some degree, I didn’t agree with the amount of time he waited to tell Alix. Regardless of who did what and to whom, the romance was one of the sweetest, all-consuming, arduous that I’ve read so far.

Much like Nick and Alix’s love for each other, the sweet gum tree, as with any other tree, I supposed, will remain true to its core; no matter how many storms it had weathered and will weather. 

This book is easily, one of my favourites of all time.