Owen Thomas' Lion Trees: Part Two: Awakening, recipient of numerous awards including Honorable Mention Winner of the premiere Eric Hoffer Award, takes the momentum from part one and turns it up several notches. To be fair, the first part of The Lion Trees was a literary delight and was instrumental in building up to the life-altering events in this volume. The story revolves around the Johns family: parents, Hollis and Susan, and the kids, David, Matilda "Tilly," and Ben. At its core, this story is about a simple, yet simultaneously complicated concept of life: self-discovery.
While part two is categorized as a separate book, it merely continues from the end of part one. Hence, the narrative opens with a focus on the dire circumstances of David Johns. David finds himself on the wrong end of one felonious accusation after another, spiraling further and further down the rabbit hole. He comes across as kindhearted, concerned about the education his history students receive. He now finds himself hoping that Brittany Kline, a student he met one night at Billy Rocks, a night club, doesn't turn up lifeless in a dumpster. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Officer North is Brittany Kline's uncle and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure David Johns is in the slammer. The novel reaches a boiling point during the courtroom drama where the Board of Education seemingly has David Johns, both his teaching career and life, dead to rights. This scene, which forms the crux of the second book, is a roller coaster filled with piercing, realistic dialogues that perfectly match the persona of each character. Throughout the hearing, the tension between numerous individuals is brought to a resolution, be it positive or negative.
The warm hearted, do-gooder with an attitude, Caitlin Carson Lewis (C.C.) is a godsend for David Johns. It is highly thrilling to see the dichotomy between Mae Chang, Dave's girlfriend at the start, and C.C., who while not being intimately involved with him is successful in helping David explore his own identity and his place in life. Repeatedly, she can be found telling Dave to embrace life, rather than be a puppet of others around him. Mae's fidelity changes with circumstances, while C.C. seems to always be there when the circumstances are the toughest. Though not part of the Johns family, her character will live on in the hearts of readers for her sincerity and matter-of-fact approach to life.
Interestingly, drugs seem to factor into the life of every Johns' family member, excluding of course the pristine Ben, who can usually be found with headphones in his ear, listening to music, and bouncing to his own rhythm. While Dave admits to possession, Tilly is taken in for questioning after an exorbitant amount of drugs are found in co-star Zac West's car. Even Hollis and Susan find themselves having a discussion about drugs. More than anything else, the drugs symbolize relief, reprieve, and freedom—fleeting though it may be—from a life of frustration and turmoil.
Thomas' novel is imbued with literary allusions that force the reader and characters to think existentially. Why does so much of humanity pretend to be who it is not? In many ways, this thirst for finding one's true identity is reminiscent of the Kate Chopin classic, The Awakening, in which the ocean represents endless hope and a union with the true self. When the realization dawns of what one really wants from life, no external influences will stand in the way. Many of Thomas' characters grapple with this realization. After all, four decades of living life a certain way can't be washed away in a moments notice.
Hollis Johns' ego is as vast as the Grand Canyon; it is so great that the simmering love he has for his estranged daughter and wife and son is buried beneath its weight. On the opposite spectrum, Susan has immersed herself in her familial duties, and at this point, there is no doubt she is suffocating and in desperate need to let her voice be heard. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Hollis and Susan's relationship is that it embodies typical relationships of the real world. The fine balance between living for the self and living for the family is hardly ever achieved to one's satisfaction.
Tilly is the Johns from afar, taking Hollywood by storm with her brilliant performance in the film, Peppermint Grove. She is away from the family, yet her ability to appear on a television screen instantaneously plays a pivotal role in helping burst the crater that is Hollis Johns' ego. Unfortunately, she shies away and intentionally sabotages relationships where there is even an ounce of genuine love. Rumors swirl around of a sex video with Zac West, and the ensuing events force her to contemplate her own existence. For this reason, her allegiance to Colonel Ivanova in Blaire Gaines' film, The Lion Tree is remarkable. Tilly Johns is far more comfortable in the skin of another than she is in her own.
A multitude of engaging, interwoven, and thought-provoking storylines coupled with lively writing and dynamic characters makes The Lion Trees a surefire must read and will leave readers in anticipation of further novels from fiction wizard Owen Thomas.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review