Title: The Butternut Tree by Maureen Ann Richards Kostalnick
Publisher: Bookstand Publishing
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 268 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Pulicist
Avon, Ohio, was a sleepy little farm town in 1945. A simple way of life focused around strict Catholic doctrine, St. Mary’s Church, and the objective truths and sense of right and wrong contained within those hallowed institutions. Tolerance was a luxury, one in which this town never indulged, favoring the rod over compassion.
In 1928, when a young woman was the victim of sexual assault, she was tarnished, regardless of her subsequent marriage and a house full of children. Years after the assault, I was born into this family — a family that shared a dilapidated farm house scarcely big enough to contain two people, let alone my grandparents, mother, sister, and two brothers.
The townspeople’s denial became condemnation as my father divorced my mother; the Town shunned our family and my mother took to her bed, unable to face herself or the world.
Unaware of the cause of my mother’s inability to function, I only knew I would grow to live a different life. I made a promise to that effect at the age of seven, under the shade and protection of my Butternut Tree.
The fulfillment of that promise has taken many turns.
A fictionalized account of author Maureen Ann Richards Kostalnick’s difficult childhood, The Butternut Tree is a heartwarming and moving story of forgiveness.
In many ways, Maureen is a typical young child who spends her days with her close friend, Billy. But her home life is anything but typical. Scarred by a traumatic event in her youth and her subsequent divorce from her alcoholic and abusive husband, Maureen’s mother, Laura, retreats to her bed when life gets to be too much for her which unfortunately happens all too often. Forced to grow up too fast, Maureen’s older sister, Donna, steps in and often takes a maternal role with Maureen. Older brother Tommy is the family clown and brings some much needed comic relief to the household.
Most of the chapters in The Butternut Tree span about ten years of Maureen’s life childhood. She is a sassy and spunky child with a foul mouth and a quick temper. Maureen is fiercely proud and not afraid to stand up to the kids and adults who tried to bully her. She is also compassionate and kind, and her longing to be “normal” family is poignant and heartbreaking.
The remaining chapters of The Butternut Tree jump abruptly to the 1980s and Maureen finally learns the family’s deep dark secret. It is disconcerting to go from her dysfunctional childhood to her now idyllic life with her husband and adult children. There is no mention of the intervening years of her marriage and no information about her adult relationship with her mother. The story wraps up with a mostly conflict free ending that is saccharine sweet and just a little too perfect.
All in all, The Butternut Tree is a touching and engaging novel that is inspirational and uplifting.