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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-07-12
- Reviewer: Staff
Though Shors (Dragon House) has skirted the edge of mawkishness in his earlier books, he crosses the line in this emotionally manipulative story of grief. Ian McCray is still a wreck a year after the death of his wife, Kate, when he finds a letter from her instructing him to take their daughter, Mattie, on the tour of Asia that she and Ian had planned for their 15th anniversary. Kate's helpfully left behind letters stored in film canisters to be opened in each country they visit, beginning with Japan, where Kate and Ian fell in love. During the trip, Ian and Mattie try to forge a closeness like the one enjoyed between mother and daughter, but it's no easy task, and Kate's letters, meanwhile, prove to be an emotional minefield. While the travel narrative is nicely handled, Kate's goodness is so overdone that she might as well have wings and a halo, and the letters she leaves behind are off-puttingly saccharine. Add the drawings Mattie leaves in "wishing trees" throughout Asia for her mother to see from heaven, and the result is like having your tears jerked at knifepoint. (Sept.)
A touching father-daughter journey
In Japan, there is an old tradition of writing wishes or prayers on pieces of paper and tying them to “wish trees,” so that they might come true. When Ian’s wife Kate dies, she leaves behind a letter urging Ian and their 10-year-old daughter, Mattie, to retrace the route of a memorable trip through Asia that the two adults had taken some 15 years before. She leaves notes behind for both, to be opened when they arrive in each of the six Asian countries that she and Ian had planned to revisit someday: Japan, Nepal, Thailand, India, Hong Kong and Vietnam. And Kate asks that they write letters to her and tie them to trees throughout their Eastern journey.
The author of three other unpredictably ranging novels, John Shors has made himself a reputation for recreating exotic landscapes that surround heartwarming stories with captivating details. The Wishing Trees is no exception, as he replaces what might be a standard tale of recovery from loss with an alluring travelogue, filled with colorful details of these chromatic countries. (The Taj Mahal, for instance, built “when architecture was spiritual in nature,” actually “seem[ed] to glow from within,” appearing “almost like a mirage in the desert . . . too perfect and pristine to rest on the same soil as the shops outside.”)
In each stop on their journey, Ian and Mattie find people, situations and settings that turn their thoughts inevitably toward others more than themselves. And Mattie, who has a talent for drawing, leaves letters for her mother with pictures and notes of longing and love on the tallest trees of every country, which eventually helps to turn her, and her father, away from the past and into a future filled with healing, as well as memories.