“Once he got there, he ran. As if something real and living, something breathing fire, was chasing him. Now, months later, he realized that creature was not something he could outrun because it lived within him.”
Beneath The Trees is a unique women’s fiction novel with a conservationist twist. Colden is a young woman working towards her PhD in wildlife biology. She spends as much time as she can in the remote wilds of the Adirondack Mountains with her father and step-mother. Working on tracking beavers and moose is important, but not as exciting as Colden desires. She wants to do something meaningful and impactful. Something that stakes her reputation and launches her career.
This novel isn’t just about Colden though. We get glimpses of a young man living in the woods. He is hiding deep in the wilds, surviving on what he can hunt or fish, only stealing small items as he needs them. He has no desire to interact with humanity. He wants to hide and disappear.
The pieces with Brayden in the wild are brief, but incredibly compelling. Every single interaction with him has you wondering what he’s running from. And as we get a glimpse into this answer, we are heartbroken bit by bit for this broken young man. We begin to wonder at the significance of who he could be in Colden’s life. Or how their paths will cross.
I have to say, while I really enjoyed this novel, I didn’t care for Colden much. Colden reads a bit like a coming of age character. Except she is far older than a teenager. So, she comes across as very immature when she interacts with people.
“Her family was apparently more wealthy and educated but seemingly less sophisticated and worldly than his. She felt both beyond Drew and behind him in unfamiliar ways.”
Her money is mentioned several times. That she is uncomfortable with it, but also more than accustomed to the convenience of it is aggravating at times. She comes across as wanting to be both a humble country girl who wants to live a simple life, and also a girl who will use her money and stature to get what she wants.
Part of what made the novel enjoyable though, is that the author doesn’t seem to be disguising her privilege or her immaturity. It takes awhile, but both her dad and her step-mom do reprimand her and call her on her nonsense. It made the novel more real for me and I could appreciate that sometimes we do go through some petulance or throw a tantrum or three when trying to find our way in this world.
“Look, all you’ve seen of us is through the lens of a kid. Kids are all self-absorbed. And frankly, you’re still a kid. Sort of, anyway. You’ve had a very sheltered life. A wonderful, rich, engaging, beautiful, but sheltered life.”
It was nice to read parents who allow Colden space to make her own mistakes but also put a boundary up when she begins to spin too far out of control. Especially if the child is actually an adult. I also liked how in the course of discussions such as these, Colden is forced to see that she is very privileged. And that she hasn’t always behaved in admirable ways, or seen that privilege.
When dealing with the character of Larry and Liam, I was irritated in a different way with Colden. Both are written to be very different characters but tackle the same unfairness and inherent sexism in the workplace topics. I did like how the story line with Larry ended. I thought it was an extremely refreshing way to remind us that we should not throw stones and to stop being so judgmental. Liam was a little harder to understand.
Seemingly he was thrown in to be a love interest, or perhaps a triangle. But his story ended up being tied up a little differently. Without spoiling the story, again, we learn to stop jumping to conclusions and to be more understanding. But, his story line also is sort of a lesson on that inherent sexism women deal with.
Colden raises the issue of feeling left out of the “boy’s club” multiple times in the novel. But, she never actually does anything to talk about how she feels about this, or to try and stop this behavior. Even when it’s her father doing the apparent shunning. I did have a problem with this. She is upset that women are expected to stay quiet and not fight it.
“The standard way to keep ambitious women just a rung or two below where their skills would otherwise take them. Just brush it off; just ignore it-that’s what they’d say.”
Which is all true. My issue is that Colden does exactly that. She bristles at the implications of these notions, but then decides she needs a bath instead. It’s a bit maddening.
The pieces then with Brayden are shown in such vivid contrast to Colden. His life and story are stark opposites to Colden’s. He is running away from a horror of a life. The foster family that was supposed to be his salvation ends up being hell for him and his sister.
“His own agonies were nothing compared to the anguish of realizing that he had not been there for her… Guilt was so much harder to bear than shame.”
I will caution that while there isn’t any graphic descriptions or scenes of abuse, physical and sexual, the topic is raised in multiple areas. While it isn’t explicit, Saville doesn’t back away from the emotional trauma that abuse inflicts. We don’t read about the abuse, but we read plenty about what it feels like to survive and move on.
“I’m not recovered. Kida like what they say about addiction; it’s really more about being in recovery. For the rest of your life. You find ways to live with it. You can’t get over it.”
Even not liking the main character, there are enough characters with significant substance that make the book enjoyable. I loved Dix and Sally. Their relationship and the honesty in which they are presented is fantastic. You can’t help but love the steady and quiet love they share. Drew is also amazing. Even as Colden’s impressions of him are annoyed or confused, you can’t help but see an outgoing and enthusiastic man anyway. And of course, Brayden’s pieces give this novel balance and depth.
The pieces on conservation and the importance of protecting the environment are well written and incredibly important. It was brilliant writing to weave this important topic into such a heavy novel without coming across as preachy or superficial. We are instead submersed into both the beauty and harshness of the wilds. It is even more skill that we can also be thrown into the same beauty and harshness of academia. The transitions between the two are seamless and natural.
Outside of my frustrations with Colden, this novel was a great story. We don’t always like facing these tougher issues in life. They are hard and they aren’t pleasant. But being able to see someone’s story through different eyes is an important lesson. In that way, Colden is a gift, because she does exactly that. She lets us learn to change our perspective. To learn how to be sympathetic, and more aware of lives other than our own. The journey we go on with her, is well worth it.
Thank you Get Red PR for sending me a copy to read and review!