Aspiring to be a female version of Walter Cronkite, thirteen-year-old Teresa (Tree) Taylor wants the freshman reporter position on the newspaper staff at Hamilton High School, despite her nemesis Wanda vying  for that same role with the “Blue and Gold.”  Her second goal for the summer is to kiss a boy, preferably Ray “with the eyes like two pieces of sky” (3), to collect a kiss worth writing about.

Besides those two ambitions to move the plot forward, The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackal, set in Hamilton, Missouri, in 1963, features a collection of quotations from famous writers and alludes to Harper Lee’s famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.  If those two facts alone don’t make the book alluring to a bibliophile, then its Beach Boys, Beatles, and sixties soundtrack should appeal; music historians will love page 154!  This is a book set at a time when the Vietnam conflict, hula hoops, Capture the Flag, the barter system, and pranks are prevalent.  It is also a time when doctors made house calls.  Doc Taylor, a man with values unpopular for the time period, is a righteous and compassionate man, a man cut from the same cloth as Atticus Finch.  Like Atticus, Doc intends to teach his daughter about truth versus rumors and gossip and about the responsibilities that come with reporting.  Writing about another’s misery might hurt that person, and that consideration trumps another’s right to know. 

Tree’s dilemma begins with a gun shot and a mystery, a mystery Tree is dedicated to solving and writing about.  Investigative reporting, Tree decides, is about digging for truth.  To learn how detectives get answers out of people, Tree reads murder mysteries.  Yet, many of the truths Tree uncovers are secrets, and she realizes “the power of the press, how words in print [become] truth for readers—even if the press [gets] it wrong” (150).  As she learns people’s secrets, Tree begins to wonder, when does the truth matter and when doesn’t it?   She also learns that some secrets can’t be left alone, that sometimes words aren’t enough, and that at other times, the truth matters more than anything else.  Unable to ignore uncomfortable secrets makes life burdensome for Tree because once she unwraps a secret, she steps into another person’s life, and with that comes responsibility.  As her father tells her, when we reach into another’s life, we need to act with the best motives we can. 

While Tree tries to understand people and their secrets, she reaches the conclusion “that nobody is just one note.  God created people like music; the better you know them, the more there is to know” (274).  Through the course of the novel, Tree appreciates the value of friendship, concurring with C.S. Lewis that “friendship, although it has no survival value, gives value to survival.”

  • Posted by Donna

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