by Katherine Applegate
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
I’m a bit loathe to give anything this sappy 5 stars, but the political climate in this country is such that this book hits at just the right time, and Katherine Applegate knows how to tell a story, so here we are. Red is the name of the red oak tree, the narrator of this story who has been around for “216 rings” – sheltering animal families, witnessing the comings and goings of the neighborhood, and remembering. When a new family comes to town, someone in the neighborhood wants them to go and Red speculates it’s because they’re different somehow (Samar’s mom wears a headscarf) but doesn’t really “get” people so isn’t sure. The boy next door, Stephen, isn’t sure if he should say anything and as outsiders we can see how hurtful his silence and inaction are. Eventually Red and friends hatch a plan to get the kids to be friends and help Samar and her family feel more welcome.
By seeing the world through a tree’s point of view, the reader comes to understand that our differences are really quite trivial in the overall scheme of the world – at least, if we can believe that people are not the only sentient beings with stories. I liked that not everyone came around – Stephen’s parents don’t magically overcome their biases and become best friends with Samar’s parents – but other changes do happen. There’s even a big speech and a wishing day party. The title comes from the Irish practice of wishing trees where you tie a rag or paper with a wish on it onto a tree on May Day. Samar’s said, “I wish for a friend.”