TREE OF DREAMS by Laura Resau weaves many important and relevant issues throughout its story. The destruction of trees in The Amazon, the dangers for the people living within it, the broken bonds of friendship, the healing power of chocolate, coming-of-age, seeking redemption, the competition between small business and corporate franchise all appear and develop as the adventures in this magical story rooted in realism unfolds. Aimed at ages 9-12, the novel will be sure to entrance and inspire middle grade readers with its sincere concerns and its passionate descriptions.
Coco Hidden, the main protagonist, is having a tough year. Moving to high school and a falling out with her best friend Leo has left her feeling alone. In addition, a new donut chain has opened down the street from her mother’s chocolate shop, so business has been slow – so slow they may have to close. Threatened with the loss of almost all that fills her heart, there seems to be no bright side. Except that chocolate makes everything better.
Readers will love the infusion of magical influences and seeming coincidences and even mysteries throughout the book. Development of Coco’s character as dreamy, thoughtful, and tentatively optimistic, reveals much of how the story’s voice consistently resonates even as the setting moves from Colorado to The Amazon. In addition, Resau manages to tackle very adult themes in accessible and entertaining, albeit unlikely, ways. The pain of a fractured friendship is palpable throughout much of the story, and Coco’s distress at the prospect of leaving her home and her family’s shop feels authentic and relatable.
Each chapter begins with a Mother Ceiba tree speaking to the characters and the reader. Tied to the dreams that Coco and Leo have, the tree pleads, educates, and guides readers through the dangers and history of life for the flora and fauna of The Amazon. The transition of both Coco and Leo from inwardly to outwardly-focused is skillfully rendered via their interactions with each other, another main character, Isa, and with the natural world of The Amazon. Some magical elements include a mysterious jaguar guide, dreams that connect several characters, a seemingly bottomless pouch that keeps chocolate truffles cool and plentiful, and a series of lucky coincidences that would seem impossible to believe were they not embedded in a dream-like environment.
Young people interested in protecting the environment, both plants and animals, will be inspired by Tree of Dreams and the details about deforestation’s effects. The pages voiced by the Mother Ceiba are both informative and heart-wrenching, and the devastating discoveries and sometimes terrifying situations the main characters experience convey a wide-array of effects, both intentional and unintended on pristine environments. In fact, some of the environmental collateral damage is portrayed with the most vivid detail in the novel.
As with many middle grade and YA novels, the characters in Tree of Dreams embark on wild adventures that seem at once incredible and completely reasonable. The parents allow their 7thGrade children to travel through the jungle alone in a canoe, Coco confronts men with guns (more than once!) who are clearing trees to explore for and move oil, and despite walking and canoeing through the jungle, creatures don’t attack and bugs don’t seem to harass (too much), and families make life-changing decisions with little more than a happy shrug. The young teens go through typical middle grade emotions of courage, regret, anxiety, self-doubt, and intense joy – but it all feels fresh and exciting because of the setting and deeply developed characterizations.
Recommended for ages 8-13.
Review by Kristin Wald