Author: Eliza Henry-Jones
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: March 23, 2020
Copy: Borrowed from my local Library
Eliza Henry-Jones is an author whose work goes automatically on the must read list, and has been since her debut novel, In The Quiet, in 2015.
How To Grow A Family Tree is the second YA novel by Henry-Jones and I loved it. On finishing I gave it 5 stars for a compelling character driven read that tackled a host of tricky topics and elicited a whole range of emotional responses.
In the days since finishing I find myself still thinking about the story, and the characters, and I am left with questions because some aspects of the story just weren’t explored in the depth I thought they deserved so I’m thinking maybe more of a 4.5. It’s still an important read which I very much enjoyed, I just would have liked a little more in some areas.
Stella is an adopted seventeen year old with an almost unhealthy habit of reading self help books, every one that she can get her hands on. Of course that leaveds her wanting to pass on the knowledge she has gained to those around her that she feels could use the help, they don’t always agree.
Henry-Jones explores many major themes of family, friendship, addiction and stereotypes in a way that is sensitive and insightful.
A gambling problem sees Stella’s parents forced to sell the family home and move to one of the local caravan parks, unfortunately not the popular tourist park. They move to Fairyland Caravan park which has an undesirable reputation and leaves Stella and her sister feeling ashamed and determined to hide the development from their friends.
New living arrangements are not all that Stella is hiding, she has also received a letter from her birth mother and she isn’t quite sure what to do about it.
How To Grow A Family Tree explores a period of great change in the lives of Stella and her family. Moving is a major upheaval at any time but under these circumstances it seems so much more traumatic. The girls are worried about living at Fairyland because of all the things they’ve heard but Henry-Jones soon illustrates that things aren’t always what they seem and the reputation of a place is often based more on folklore than fact.
Stella tries to do the best she can to help the family in the new situation, and she teams with her sister to keep a close eye on their dad to make sure the situation doesn’t get worse.
All of the residents of Fairyland Caravan Park have their own stories and Henry-Jones delves into them all, allowing us to get to know them, and connect with these secondary characters as well.
We follow the story of Stella and her birth mother, which came with much tension but was beautifully explored. I kept thinking there was more to this story and hoped that it would unravel in time, but I’m still left wondering how it all pieces together. It was quite an emotional story, as any story of adoption is going to be, and I definitely felt for Kelly who was irrevocably changed by a teen pregnancy.
Kelly was a tricky character to get a grip on, she is clearly still carrying baggage but she is also definitely making an effort. I felt that there was something missing from this whole connection though, I kept waiting to hear how it came to be that Stella ended up with her parents because I just got this feeling they had some connection with Kelly but it was never disclosed. I could also be way off the mark but that’s how the pieces went together for me.
Stella’s friendships changed over the course of the book, as they were destined to do when she keeps a secret as big as this move from them. I think this whole situation was explored realistically and with sensitive insight.
The new friendships Stella and her family forge were lovely to watch, to gain some insight and understanding of the Fairyland residents and the importance of the caravan park. There were also another couple of twisty secrets that came to light that I didn’t see coming.
How To Grow A Family Tree is a lovely coming of age story written with wit and sensitivity that I am glad to have read. It’s also one that I will try and encourage my teen to read.
How To Grow A Family Tree is book #16 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2020.
How To Grow A Family Tree is available now through Harper Collins and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold. In these uncertain times it would be great to try and support a local bookstore, many of the ones in my area have put systems in place to fulfil orders even though their physical stores may be closed to the public.