Thursday Throwback: The Family Tree

“‘When you look at their pictures,’ she said slowly, her eyes on Katy Anne with the parasol, ‘they don’t seem dead. If only we could get to their time they’d be alive. It’s only time that’s wrong. They’re only dead now, for us. They’re not dead then.'”

I often use the term “love” generously with books to mean “look on with fondness,” but The Family Tree by Margaret Storey is definitely on my list of top twenty books from my childhood. I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread it, but it’s been several years and when I wanted a comfort read this suddenly sprang to mind.

Image from Goodreads

Kate, an orphan, has spent much of her young life sharing a bedroom with cousins up until her aunt becomes pregnant again. Then she is shipped off to the country home of her father’s cousin. Cousin Lawrence is a distant old man, unused to children, and gives Kate free reign to explore the house and grounds. She discovers an attic full of belongings from her grandmother and her siblings, with whom Cousin Lawrence grew up, and becomes fascinated with piecing together their story. Her attention is focused on the youngest, Katy Anne, with whom she feels a particular affinity, despite the sometimes painful memories that the past conjures for others. Kate also befriends a boy she meets on the property, who turns out to have an interest in the family’s past as well.

I could clearly recall the premise and the ending, but while rereading every single event became all at once familiar again. Everything I loved about it before is still true–finding a sense of belonging by learning about the past while cultivating relationships in the present. It sounds a bit odd, but I’d describe the book as a cross between The Secret Garden and Tom’s Midnight Garden, even if there’s not that much of a garden in this story.

The genealogy aspect plays a large role in my love of the book. I think family history is fascinating because the stories have the finite nature of fiction but concern real people, who lived through the events we always read about, and their blood runs in our veins. When you know their daily routines, their likes and dislikes, listen to their music, hold their possessions, they seem so much closer. My mom’s father died before I was born, but from hearing stories and reading his letters and seeing newspaper articles about him, I still feel like I know him.

I was curious afterward to know what else Margaret Storey wrote. It’s hard to find information, because there is another author with the same name. Apparently, however, she also wrote a series featuring a witch that was a big inspiration for Neil Gaiman.

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Published in: on May 6, 2010 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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