THIS JUST IN: The Foreign Language of Friends has won a gold medal in the eLit Book Awards “Women’s Issues” category. I came home from my volunteer shift at the arts center to find a nice certificate waiting for me. Very cool! I did my happy dance, and then I made dinner. There’s an irony in that, eh?
Anyway, on to this week’s book recommendation:
Some books entertain, some inform, some move us. Good books, though, really good books, do some of all three, and then they astonish. They remind us of why we read, and we fall in love all over again with the act of reading. Ilie Ruby’s The Language of Trees fits in to this final category.
Set in upstate New York, The Language of Trees blends Seneca folklore, a family torn apart by tragedy, and the regrets of lost love in a healthy brew of magical realism. The end result, poignant and uplifting, heartbreaking and hopeful, left me breathless and satisfied to my core. It’s the difference between eating a fine, nourishing meal vs. junk food. The calories are the same, but in the end we feel more alive and whole.
The story begins with a horrific accident on Canandaigua Lake during a sudden, intense storm that wounds an already troubled family to the core. Twelve years later, oldest sister Melanie, who has struggled with addiction since the incident, disappears. Most people assume she has abandoned her new life and young son for drugs. At about the same time, Grant Shongo has returned to Canandaigua and his roots to nurse a broken heart after the end of his marriage. Grant, of Seneca heritage, has the curious ability to heal wounds. As he connects with his roots and his destiny, his story intersects with Melanie’s in unexpected ways.
Along the way, the spirits are restless, with mysterious footprints, dimes, and paper airplanes reminding the living of the untold stories of the dead. With raw intensity, Ruby draws disparate characters together seamlessly, revealing both their greatness and their failings. Though magic threads its way throughout the story, it never cheats it or dilutes the power of the story.
It’s been hard to pick up a book after this one. I just want to savor it longer and let it settle in to my spirit. The one I’ve picked up after, though not a bad book, pales in comparison. If you love reading, read The Language of Trees. If you love writing, read it and learn.