REVIEW:  The Penny Tree by Holly Kennedy

REVIEW: The Penny Tree by Holly Kennedy

Dear Ms Kennedy,

The arc for “The Penny Tree” was a blind pick for me. I’d not read your previous book so was basing my decision to read this one on the the author quotes listed on the cover. While I did find the book was “written with compassion and authenticity” there are still some issues for me with it.

Annie Hillman’s been dangling from the end of her rope for so long, she can barely hold on. Forced to move back to her small hometown, she’s working a temporary job that feels more permanent by the day. Her son Luke is an out-of-control truant, And her younger son Eric’s medical bills are burying Annie. Her only refuge is the Douglas fir tree that has been special to her since childhood, when her father helped her nail a penny to the trunk to mark in important chapter of her life. Then the oddest thing happens. The local paper carries an ad featuring a picture of Annie — when she was young and free — on the first page, with an earnest message of love and regret from an unknown admirer…

Do You Recognize This Woman? As the years go by, I often ask myself this: How did I lose the only woman I ever loved? The answer isn’t straight, or simple, but if I don’t do something about it, I’ll regret if for the rest of my life…

The paper’s editor refuses to name names, but the ads continue to appear. And when the story breaks, Annie finds herself in the national spotlight — and in the heart of a secret admirer who could change her life.

First of all, I liked the realism of the story. Annie and Jack aren’t the best at what they do. Neither of them is perfect nor do they always have the answers for their problems or children. But I could see that both wanted the best for the boys and that they deeply regreted that their marital breakup caused so much pain. The problems that the family face, namely Luke’s school issues and Eric’s medical relapse, seem valid as well as the fact that both boys act out. I appreciate that you give Annie’s mother a good reason for her hypochondria instead of just trying to make her a “character.”

But why, oh why, are all handsome heroes now compared to George Cluny?!? Before it was Brad Pitt and now Cluny! Please authors, pick someone else to describe as your hero or better yet just give us a visual with words and let us imagine what he looks like. But this is a minor point compared with my major niggle for the book. Will Annie and Jack be able to work out their problems this time? Are Annie’s changes and personal growth enough? Or is the talk show paying for Eric’s unpaid medical bills like deus ex machina? I’m not sure I believe that they’ll do better this time or that the next major crisis won’t tear them apart again.

I did find the final revelation of Annie’s secret admirer very touching as well as the fact that the gift of her young son’s favorite toy could brighten her otherwise horrible day. I like that her love for her children never once wavered despite all their problems but I wouldn’t want a Newf drooling on my bed. C+