Friday, July 23, 2010

Social Ghost

The Space Between Trees
by Katie Williams
Chronicle Books

The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams follows the story of a quiet, quirky loner. Evie, a girl raised by her divorced mother, is sixteen with a paper route and every bit the lonely outcast. Awkward in school, not fitting in, she hovers on the periphery observing and fantasizing desired interactions. Her crush, college guy Jonah, seems to be her only source of social hope.

The day that Evie does her paper route near the woods is the same day that Jonah does his job, which is collecting animal carcasses in the woods for animal control. One delivery day Evie is in the wrong place at the wrong time when Jonah discovers a human body in the woods. In a cruel twist, the murdered girl ends up to be Evie’s childhood friend, Elizabeth. It’s a lonely world when not your only friend, but your only former friend, is pulled lifeless from the woods. At the funeral, when Evie lies about the depth of her friendship with Elizabeth, she sets the stage for a very complex dynamic between her, Elizabeth’s father and Elizabeth’s best friend, Hadley. In a strange courtship, Hadley and Evie join forces to discover who the killer is. In a blend of lies, teenage escapades, and frazzled emotions Evie sinks deeper into an increasingly dangerous situation. The story slowly builds to a violent climax, causing Evie to realize what she was after all along.

As it happens, I had very high hopes for this book. The jacket reads like a thrilling murder mystery with an unlikely cast of characters. The book design is a stunning piece of die-cut craftsmanship, very elegant and haunting. The title was intriguing to me, the lonely clearing among massive, strong beings. This space between trees is the growing void of loneliness, isolation, and rejection inside a there-but-never-seen young girl. Evie’s stories, her thoughts, and her hopes stand separately from her bodily action and inaction. Evie is the ghost in the machine, the silent partner to a life unfolding everyway but that which she hoped. A phantasm, alienated from her peers and even those she thinks are friends, in life and in death. Basically, I had to read this book.

As Evie set the tone for her involvement in a devolving situation, so I set myself up for major literary disappointment. The bones of this story have huge potential to take the narrative to a greater place. Unfortunately, I think the story fell short. The author was often telling us how Evie felt instead of writing it so we would experience those feelings with her. As an example, the moment, post climax in the story, where Evie confronts Hadley in the hospital room, should have been an epic scene. Instead, flat observations and a dull dialogue reign in one of the key ending phases of the book. As a reader, I felt cheated. Stories that move us are those that allow us to get swept into and become one with the emotional thread in the story. This book is written in the first-person perspective, so when Evie feels something, anything, I want to feel it through her, organic and natural as she feels it herself. Instead, this story left me with the sense of an out of body experience, like those dreams when you are silently watching yourself from above and outside. I felt very disconnected to this book.

Not seeing the forest for the trees?

Another gripe is the tidy package readers receive at the end of the story. The equivalent of a fairy tale happily ever after, this book takes the easy way out explaining what happens to everyone. The prince married the young maid, they had a dozen babies, had a sprawling mansion by the sea while Evie gains perspective and every major plot point is hastily resolved, the end. I don’t want to create any story spoilers, but I will simply say the last few chapters were a big let down.

While the general theme of this book was on the right track, a coming of age tale, a suspenseful conflict, ultimately, I think this story is forgettable. As far as YA fiction goes, it has many of the key components that make compelling stories but I don’t think these elements were incorporated or utilized to the best effort. I’ve read good reviews for this book and other Katie Williams short stories, but for me The Space Between Trees needed a little more time to grow. Please feel free to read yourself and post opposing viewpoints. I may have been absent in my reading, causing me to miss the essential essence of this story.


  1. How I wish there'd been a site like this when I was a strange little girl! Brilliant work, people. I'm spreading the word :)

  2. We are glad you found us! Thanks for the kind words. Stay tuned for more reviews.

    Any good scary books you care to recommend? Let me know!