The Caleb Trees
It says “romance” on the spine of this novel, but that’s really a misnomer. A romance is the story of a courtship: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, there’s some strife and then they live happily ever after. The Caleb Trees is about what happens after the fairytale ends and life begins. It’s about the fact that not only obtaining, but also maintaining that “happily ever after” takes work and effort, especially when life throws our happy couple a curve ball.
This is the story of the DeWildes. There is Meg, the loving wife and mother. Her husband is Jack, a successful real estate agent, who overcame a difficult childhood and is the solid core of his family. They have two teenage children, Bethany, a high school freshman, strong willed and stubborn like her father; and Caleb, a high school junior, star baseball player and sensitive like his mother. Everything seems perfect until, one March afternoon, Caleb takes his own life.
Because Caleb left no note to explain what lead him to this fateful act, his family is left with difficult and painful questions. Why did Caleb kill himself? Where did Meg and Jack go wrong? Why didn’t they see the signs? What else is wrong in their lives?
Meg needs answers and is slowly alienating her husband and daughter in search of them. Jack, who tried to find answers to similar questions when his father died in accident when he was 16, knows that there may never be answers and decides to move forward with life instead. He can’t understand Meg’s need to know. Yet, part of him also fears what Meg will find, like where he was the day Caleb died. Bethany, who worshipped her brother, turns into a rebellious teen, pitting her mother against her father while she tries to come to grips with her anger at Caleb leaving. Suddenly the DeWildes are in a downward spiral with no way out.
Meg worries her husband is indifferent to their son’s death and is angry he doesn’t feel her pain. Jack is hurting deeply and wants Meg to comfort him and is saddened that her need for answers is more important than keeping their family on track. They’re both worried about their daughter and at a loss at how to handle her rude behavior. Amazingly, as they fall apart, others close to them finally learn to stand on their own. Jack’s mother and brother find sobriety and Meg’s sister finds true love. Caleb’s death has brought about amazing, positive changes, but can his family survive?
I found this book hard to get into, but by the end I was wrapped up in these characters lives and wanted everything to turn out well for them. You watch as Meg finds strength to stand up for her beliefs and in the end to confront the villain; and you watch Jack struggling to hold it together as he sees what his stubborn pride caused. Both characters seem to completely turn their lives around, but it never appears forced or unreal. At first I was annoyed by Meg’s wishy-washyness and really disliked Jack’s unbendable opinions, but Holmes deftly shows what’s underneath those first impressions.
I had some troubles with how the ethics of suicide were handled. In some ways, The Caleb Trees glorified suicide, showing all sorts of positive changes that would never have come about had Caleb not died. Caleb’s memory was treated with almost saintly reverence. The issue of teens copying Caleb’s act when they see all the positive attention he got was addressed briefly, but I felt it was brushed under the rug as a ludicrous idea when it’s known that teens do copy their peers’ actions. Suicide is a personal issue for me based on my faith. As a compassionate human being I can see that this is how a family would deal with the tragic death of a child, but there are other moral dimensions that could have been explored more fully.
Overall I found The Caleb Trees an enjoyable character study. Although it’s a dark book, Holmes leaves the reader with the hope that the DeWildes will have the strength to overcome anything that comes their way.