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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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sweet Gum Tree

Katherine Allred


“…there are more kinds of hurt than physical ones, hurts that run ever deeper and leave bigger scars, and not even Nick could protect me from himself.”

Hands down, the most enjoyable book I have read this year. I know that I say that a lot and I do read a lot of incredible books but I guess the reason why I am making such a statement about this particular book is because it had me from the first page. I was smiling from the moment I started reading it because I immediately had a gut feeling that I was going to love it. It was just my kind of book from the get-go.

The more I kept reading, the more I was certain that it was going to be a heart-wrenching journey, but nothing prepared me for everything that happened in this book. Katherine Allred has such a unique writing style – the only way I can describe it is by comparing it to someone giving you a shoulder massage, getting you to slowly relax and find your happy place, and then suddenly slapping you on the back of the head. I felt like that throughout the book. Just when you think that you can relax again – slap! And the worse slaps were the ‘pre-emptive’ ones where Ms Allred throws a hint here and there, usually at the end of a chapter, of what is to come and it never sounds good. This story had so many ‘gasp’ moments that I had to remind myself to breathe.

“I swear, Alix, someday I’ll make you proud to be seen with me.”

The book is written from Alix’s POV and that never changes. However, what changes is her voice – we meet her when she is 8 years old and her POV then matches her age. As she grows older, so does her POV. I just loved that. We get to fall in love with this vivacious and kind little girl who sees the world through such a pure and untainted filter. She meets young Nick, two years her senior, and she immediately wants to save him from his horrific life. She offers him kindness and friendship rather than pity and he slowly becomes Alix’s whole world. While they are young, their bond is purely a friendship but as they grow older their relationship blossoms into a lovely romance. Are you relaxed yet because here come the ‘slaps’? Nick’s father is shot, Nick has to leave town, Nick leaves town, Alix is heart-broken, Alix is pregnant, Alix marries someone else. What follows made me shake my head and cry “No, no, no, no …” so many times that I got dizzy in the end. I won’t spoil the story for anyone by telling you what happens next because I think the book’s synopsis already reveals too much for my taste, but I will tell you that you will laugh, you will curse and you will cry like a baby.

“You’re the only one I’ve ever wanted, Alix, the only one I’ll ever want. That’s a promise.”

For me, this book is about whether love truly conquers all. It is about our ability to forgive unimaginable hurts and put love first. Alix and Nick’s story spans over a long period of time and the only thing that we are truly certain about throughout the book is Alix’s love for Nick. I really liked Alix as a character and as a woman – she followed her heart and truly did what she thought was best. Not just for her but for everyone she loved. She goes through hell and I just expected her to explode one day, it was inevitable. You can only accumulate so much pain and sorrow inside you before it starts spilling out. I was angry when she was angry, I was heart-broken when she was heart-broken, and I wanted to scream when she just held it all inside.

“You can’t turn love on and off like a light switch, no matter how hard you try. All you can do is wall it off, one brick at a time, until you’ve created an impenetrable fortress around your emotions. And once that fortress is built, you camouflage it so well that even you can’t see it anymore.”

Nick is truly as perfect as you’re ever going to get in a leading man, in my humble opinion. At no point did I doubt his love for Alix but I did question some of his actions. He made mistakes but he had his reasons and they were always born out of concern for others. He did not consider himself good enough for Alix, he loved her so damn much but he wanted to become the man she would be proud of. I hate that he left but I understand why he left and let’s not forget that he came back. I suspect that a man like Nick would carry the burden of his mistakes for the rest of his life and I was happy that they allowed forgiveness to heal their broken hearts rather than allowing hurt and regret to torture them forever.

“I love you. There hasn’t been a single day in the last fifteen years that I haven’t regretted not telling you when I had the chance. That house I’m working on next door? It’s never been for me. I’m building it for you. Without you there to share it, it will never be anything but an empty pile of boards.”

The ending was just perfect, I think it couldn’t have ended better. It takes time to erase years of pain and it takes time for broken hearts to heal completely and start embracing happiness. It wasn’t rushed, it was realistic and it satisfied the HEA junkie in me.

A beautifully written book, an elegant and experienced writing style, a delightful story that you will carry in your heart for quite some time, I promise you. I would give this book 10 stars if I could!

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“I promise you this. I’ll love you until the day I die even if I have to live without you. And if it’s fifty years from now, you come home, Nick Anderson. Do you hear me? I’ll be waiting on you.”

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