The Communing Tree
by Theresa Verboort

"She had pointed out to me that death is simply a transformation of the living."

When Judith’s father returns from Vietnam in 1967 with a debilitating case of PTSD, he finds refuge in a small church of like-minded souls. Led by a charismatic pastor who advocates preparing for the “end times,” many in his flock abandon their livelihoods. By the time Judith is sixteen in 1979, her family has spent eight happy years hidden deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in southwestern Oregon. While camping away from their cabin to tend their father’s illegal marijuana grow, Judith and her little sister Kali witness the murder of their parents and older brother. The girls escape back to the safety of their cabin and the arms of their maternal grandmother, a capable elder who had a full-blooded Modoc mother. The girls’ fragile world is soon shattered again when Gramma suddenly passes away, and Judith must decide whether to care for her mute sister alone or return to the outside world. Two small comforts during their ordeal are the “communing tree” that shelters their grandmother’s grave, and the gifts of wild game left by a mysterious visitor.

A 2019 WILLA Literary Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction & Nonfiction, the title is an engaging read from the first page to the last. The characters are well-developed, and both adult and young adult readers will care about their desires and dilemmas. The stunning wilderness setting also displays a personality of its own, and Verboort’s descriptions of daily survival there lend authenticity to the story’s high level of suspense. A native Oregonian, the author has delved deeply into her heart to pay homage to a landscape and a culture that she obviously treasures. The quiet, unassuming voice of Judith will be remembered for years to come in this classic tale of survival and sisterly devotion.

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