Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns
It’s 1906 and Will Tweedy, a 14-year-old boy in a small Georgia town, tells us stories about his family. His tales mainly focus on this stubborn grandfather Rucker Blakeslee, who decides to remarry a very young woman only three weeks after his wife dies.
His adult daughters are scandalized and the town of Cold Sassy is shocked. Rucker’s new wife, Miss Love Simpson, is a strong woman, but she still wants to be accepted by the traditional town. Rucker runs the local grocery store, so everyone in town knows his business. The novel captures the core of small town life. Everything you do is under a microscope and people are so concerned about what their nosy neighbors will think of their every decision.
The book focuses on Will’s whole family, from his bossy Aunt Loma to his quiet, devoted father Hoyt. It’s written almost like a collection of short stories, weaving from one adventure to the next. The chapter that takes place on a train trestle was so intense it had a heart racing! I also loved the scenes with the Rucker and his wife Mattie Lou before she died. He’s a tough old bird, but when it comes to love he’s a complete softie.
The point-of-view did remind me of To Kill a Mockingbird, not just because it’s a child of a similar age, but also because it's set during a similar time period in the south. There's an observational honesty that comes from choosing a narrator like that. The story never reaches the same depth as To Kill a Mockingbird, but it has a similar tone.
BOTTOM LINE: I really loved reading about Will’s adventures and I was surprised and touched by the serious tone the book took on towards the end. I’d highly recommend this one for anyone who enjoys coming-of-age stories, turn-of-the-century fiction or Southern novels.
“To me they were like a book, a book with the last chapter missing. And I couldn’t wait to know how it ended.”
“To mourn is not the same as to be in mourning, which means wearing a black armband and sitting in the parlor talking to people who call on the bereaved. At first you feel important, the armband makes you special like having on a badge, but after a day or two it stops meaning anything. But to mourn, that’s different. To mourn is to be eaten alive with homesickness for the person.”
“My mother always said, ‘Never expect church members to be perfect, Christians are still people.”