The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano: The Review, the Controversy

Posted on October 15, 2017 by Regina | 2 Comments

The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano: The Review, the Controversyby Elle Cosimano
Published by Disney Hyperion on June 13, 2017
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Tori Burns and her family left D.C. for claustrophobic Chaptico, Maryland, after suddenly inheriting a house under mysterious circumstances. That inheritance puts her at odds with the entire town, especially Jesse Slaughter and his family—it’s their generations-old land the Burns have “stolen.” But none of that seems to matter after Tori witnesses a young man claw his way out of a grave under the gnarled oak in her new backyard.

Nathaniel Bishop may not understand what brought him back, but it’s clear to Tori that he hates the Slaughters for what they did to him centuries ago. Wary yet drawn to him by a shared sense of loss, she gives him shelter. But in the wake of his arrival comes a string of troubling events—including the disappearance of Jesse Slaughter’s cousin—that seem to point back to Nathaniel.

As Tori digs for the truth—and slowly begins to fall for Nathaniel—she uncovers something much darker in the tangled branches of the Slaughter family tree. In order to break the centuries-old curse that binds Nathaniel there and discover the true nature of her inheritance, Tori must unravel the Slaughter family’s oldest and most guarded secrets. But the Slaughters want to keep them buried… at any cost.

From award-winning author Elle Cosimano comes a haunting, atmospheric thriller perfect to hand to readers of the Mara Dyer trilogy and Bone Gap.

“It’s Dark Magic Brings Him Back.”

The name and the cover of this book were not appealing to me. I did, however, think that the dark synopsis was original, therefore intriguing. I did not want to be lame and judge a book by its cover, so I started reading it.

Long story short, I could not put this book down. This novel was a refreshing departure from the market-driven YA books that I have been reading as of late. The story was different from anything I have read before. The author manages to tackle some difficult historical, cultural, and mental-health issues without being preachy. This is perhaps the reason behind the controversy surrounding this book. Some readers gave this novel a low rating or simply DNFed it because the author wrote a female protagonist who struggles with self-harm/cutting, and the author does not condemn it or resolve the behavior within the story. One Goodreads user stated:

“I finished this book a few days ago, and I have carried it with me since then, trying to talk myself into it.

I enjoyed so many things about this book until I realized that the biggest obstacle would never be resolved:

This book glorifies and romanticizes self-harm, to the point where it is actually the means through which the protagonist actualizes her goal. None of her friends call her on this, and her lies to her mother are never addressed.

As a middle school teacher, I cannot recommend this book. (less)” 

Many reviewers had similar comments, and I have to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with their perspective. The author NEVER glorifies the act of self-harm. She does, however, not resolve the issue or go on to talk about it in any meaningful way either. While the self-harming behavior of the MC is what gets the ball rolling on the main storyline–a complicated relationship between two people-it does not define the MC, Tori Burns. Her resilience defines her, and I think that’s one of the points of the novel.

The author presents a complex and realistic female protagonist, someone we could possible have grown up with, worked with, or had as a neighbor, and shows the reader how this person, who has suffered trauma, deals with such a dark secret–hidden in plain sight. The author gives a realistic view into the normal-yet-not-so-normal life of a teenage girl whose had to change her life to keep her cutting hidden from her family and her friends. I think the author handled this topic in a beautiful and nuanced way. It is not the author’s job to preach at readers about the dangers of self-harm. The fact is, there are people all around us that struggle with this and, if anything, The Suffering tree teaches readers how to recognize the signs of someone who is suffering with anxiety, depression, or self-harming impulses.

If you are interested in learning more about cutting or other self-harming behavior, here are some great places to start:

Cutting and Self-Harm

Now back to the review.

The exploration of indentured servitude alongside slavery in the early American colonies was fascinating and presented in all of its sadness and brutality. The novel jumps back and forth between the colonial times of Nathaniel Bishop, the male protagonist, and the present life of Tori Burns.  The author does a great job of melding these storylines together, while exploring cultural and mental health issues.

All of the characters were well fleshed out and interesting in their own ways. The novel kept me intrigued until the end, and presented some history in a very creative and original way. The romantic aspects of the story were equally original, while being reminiscent of Edward and Bella from Twilight if that makes any sense….(LOLz).

Realistic, tense, sad, clever, and haunting, this book marks one of my favorites of the year so far. I highly recommend it.

Have you read The Suffering Tree? Did you find it offensive or in bad taste? Or did you love it? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.


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About Elle Cosimano

Elle Cosimano is the award-winning author of the acclaimed young adult novels Nearly Gone, Nearly Found, Holding Smoke, and The Suffering Tree.
Elle grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs, the daughter of a maximum security prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rode a Harley. A failed student of the hard sciences, she discovered her true calling in social and behavioral studies while majoring in psychology at St. Mary’ s College of Maryland. Fifteen years later, Elle set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two sons in Northern Virginia, Florida, and Mexico.


2 responses to “The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano: The Review, the Controversy

  1. I’ve been wanting to get a copy of this book for a while, but I haven’t read any reviews on it so far. Books that talk about self harm aren’t the worst thing in the world, but when they glorify it and make it seem like it’s no big deal or it’s a great thing, I can see where problems arise. Books that talk about self harm are triggering for me as someone who had dealt with it personally years ago, so I tend to try to avoid them, unless they are important and talk about how one can help themselves. I loved reading your review – thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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