The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

Posted On 7 September 2020

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Compelling, light horror with depth

I have to say that The Ghost Tree really worked very well indeed for me. On a superficial level this is a coming of age horror story based in a small town beleaguered by an old curse. Scratch the surface however and there’s plenty of food for thought amongst these pages which I’ll take a brief look at below.

Smith’s Hollow could be described as a loose retelling of Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is more a ghost story and in Smith’s Hollow there is the Ghost Tree, which seems to be the epicentre of the trouble, there’s a monster that tears apart young girls and yet strangely enough leaves their heads intact (in complete reversal of the headless horseman’s modus operandi of leaving the bodies intact but taking the head with him) and there’s the reliance on the spooky ‘into the woods’ factor that plays into the creepiness of both stories.

As we begin the Ghost Tree we make the acquaintance of Lauren and Miranda. Both friends since childhood the two have always met up at the Ghost Tree and spent all their free time exploring and playing in the woods. Their relationship is changing however. Miranda is becoming more interested in boys, dressing up and being a bit more adult whilst Lauren is still trying to hold onto her younger self and isn’t quite yet ready to make the transition. Sadly, Lauren recognises that she and Miranda are growing apart and probably won’t remain friends for much longer. With Lauren’s transition through puberty comes a vision of two young girls being attacked in the woods – a vision that turns out to be a grim reality when the mutilated bodies are found arranged in one of the neighbour’s back gardens.

This is when we start to have our first glimpse of the strangeness that is Smith’s Hollow. At first glance Smith’s Hollow seems to be the perfect picture postcard American town. Prosperous, well kept houses and gardens, people going happily about their daily business and yet barely a day after the bloody remains of two young girls are discovered the place remains calm, there is no horrified buzz, people aren’t discussing the murders, parents aren’t going into ‘protection’ mode over their own daughters like you would expect, in fact, people are in fact forgetting that two hideous murders have just occurred. Lauren, however, isn’t forgetting the terrifying vision she had, or the fact that her father was also brutally murdered only a year ago and his death remains unsolved, and she is determined to take action.

So, I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly scary story although it does have it’s creepy moments and there is a certain amount of horror chucked in – although the ‘ick’ factor doesn’t feel too gross for some reason, I think the author’s no nonsense style of writing lessens the impact somehow. I liked that element of the story in fact but maybe if you’re really expecting a gorefest you might keep that in mind. But, super scary or horror filled or not this is a story that did grip me. I fairly dashed through this in a couple of days and I can definitely say that it held me firmly in its grip.

What works particularly well here is the setting and the whole backstory of Smith’s Hollow. The whole town seems to be suffering from some sort of mass amnesia. I won’t go into the reason why but let you discover the history of the place for yourself when you pick this one up – it’s an element of the story that I thought was really well done and I don’t want to spoil the whole story within a story surprise.

We have a number of characters who share time telling their story. Not all of these characters are likable of course but I didn’t have any problem relating to a couple of them. I liked Lauren, to be honest I liked Miranda – I think I felt kind of sorry for her, she was so desperate to lose her innocence and she radiated a sort of ‘damaged’ aura that made me want to give her a hug. I’m not going to elaborate on all the characters but the different aspects help to build a story in themselves. There are plenty of misunderstandings running amok. People getting the wrong end of the stick or reacting to things through distorted perceptions of reality.

And now I get to the whole train of crazy thought that was swirling about in my head whilst reading this – and I don’t think I’ve totally unravelled some of these thought trains even now. Like I said, at face value this is a horror story retelling of a classic ghost story. Dig deeper and there are a few underlying themes here. Let’s look at the racism that takes place. One particular vile character who is so racist she actually makes you feel ill reading her thoughts. She’s just shockingly full of nasty and stirs up a whole hornet’s nest of trouble. Her actions incite mob hysteria and potential violence from a bunch of people who feel like they’re being led by the nose by a raging xenophobe. There’s the whole hive mind, herd mentality ‘thing’ taking place not to mention the aspect that plainly comes across of people being happier to live in ignorance, even slaughtering the odd (yearly) sacrificial lamb to maintain their lifestyle, rather than face the reality of what is actually happening.

However, if that all seems a bit heavy – take what I’m saying with a pinch of salt, really this is a coming of age horror story that is well told, shocking in parts and really quite all consuming

In terms of criticisms. Well, nothing that spoiled the read for me but I would just mention briefly. The ending, which I admit really ramps up the tension, becomes a little messy – there seems to be a lot going on and there was a feeling of jumbled hysteria – but I think that was perhaps intentional in order to reflect the feel of the place and its inhabitants. What I did miss a little was more emotional depth, particularly from Lauren. She took things very much in her stride which I liked – but at the same time, given her age, I think I expected a little more reaction at certain points. There is also a very male predatory vibe that comes across here, I mention that just so that you’re aware, personally it felt like a strange reflection of fairytales and other stories where women can be quite often preyed upon but on the reverse side Lauren counters that by being so ‘stand up for herself’ and realistic.

Overall I thought this was a very good read that I really didn’t want to put down.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars

14 Responses to “The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry”

  1. proxyfish

    Great review, Lynn – this sounds like a gripping read! Unlike my fantasy I think I prefer my horror a little less bloody (it feels too real, perhaps?) so The Ghost Tree might just be a good fit! πŸ˜€

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, this might work well for you then. The murders are gruesome but they’re not overly elaborated.
      Lynn πŸ˜€

  2. Tammy

    Awesome review, Lynn. I also reviewed this today but didn’t like it quite as much as you. I also completely missed the Legend of Sleepy Hollow references, which would have made me appreciate it more, maybe.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, it could just be me though reading into it, or maybe just a very loose restyling. I don’t remember a witch’s curse in the original story but I do recall something similar in the latest adaptation. I enjoyed this. It got a little crazy in parts but it’s my first book by this author so I don’t know how it compares with her other work.

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    The collective amnesia angle sounds very intriguing as do the other, real-world themes like racism or the way friendships cool off while growing up.
    Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I thought there was some real food for thought going on with this one that I really liked.
      Lynn πŸ˜€

  4. waytoofantasy

    Glad to see you enjoyed this one! I want to pick up a copy to read at some point this month, think it might be a fun one to check out. πŸ™‚

    • @lynnsbooks

      I enjoyed it. I liked the coming of age type story and reading the two different girl’s povs.
      Lynn πŸ˜€

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Just saw a review from Tammy and you both have me intrigued! I’ll be preparing myself for those messy bits!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, we differed slightly with this one. I really liked it but also at the same time this is my first book by this author so I wonder whether if I’d read her previous books that might have changed my view – I’d like to think not but you can’t help comparing after all. I must backtrack and read some of her others.
      Lynn πŸ˜€

  6. pagesandtea

    This sounds perfect for the spooky season. The Sleepy Hollow comparison definitely catches my attention and so many other aspects of it sound good too. I’ve never read anything by this author before but might have to see whether the library get this one. Great review πŸ™‚

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was my first book by this author and I did enjoy it – I should probably try and make my way back through some of her others, in fact I’m pretty sure I have one or maybe two already owned on my kindle so no excuse really – well, time, I suppose.
      Lynn πŸ˜€

      • pagesandtea

        I think I might have a copy of Alice on my kindle, will have to go through and check. There are so many books on there I’ll probably find all kinds of things I’d totally forgotten about πŸ˜€

      • @lynnsbooks

        I actually quite like looking through my kindle sometimes – just to see all the books I’d forgotten about!
        Lynn πŸ˜€

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