Synopsis: Set in Olympia, Washington, Peter “March” Wong is a fourteen-year-old autistic boy who lives with his mother. He loves trees and loves to climb them. He sees a giant Ponderosa Pine called The Eagle Tree and dreams of climbing it.
Review: This was an illuminating, but slow, read. I almost set it aside, but pushed through and I’m very glad that I read it, as I feel this is a book I will continue to think about.
The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes is a very sweet book that I discovered by surfing Amazon one evening. I was drawn to the cover and the interesting sounding synopsis, and it was a very unique read.
Told entirely from the point of view of Peter “March” Wong, March is an autistic boy who loves to climb trees and learn about them. March is single-minded about the trees, and it was interesting to get inside his head and hear his perspective about other people and why he reacts in certain ways, and why he loves trees and climbing them.
“The Eagle Tree was like a lighthouse to me, a beacon of hope, a sign of great life that towers over everything. It drew me in, saying, Climb me, climb me. Trees like this keep me oriented in a storm of things I do not understand.”
Once I got over my panic at the thought of a fourteen-year-old boy climbing trees (and big trees!) constantly, most of the time without supervision, I was able to settle into the story.
Set in Olympia, Washington, the trees are all around, and are characters in their own way. Each tree is different, with different features, and March explains them all, which can be very dry at times. So dry, that I almost had to set the book aside. But I continued on because I wanted to know if March would ever climb his beloved Eagle Tree.
Once March spies the Eagle Tree, he fixates on being able to climb it, and must overcome obstacles to get close to his tree. Obstacles include his mother, his uncle, the fact that the tree is now on private property and is slated to be bulldozed for a new development, and the state potentially taking March away from his mother.
There is a lot of tree science in the book, and there is also a lot of talk about climate change (seriously – if you know someone who doesn’t believe global warming is real, this book might change their mind). Sometimes all of this science stuff just made my eyes glaze over, but other times it was fascinating, especially when it talked of various reasons the beetle populations are so large now and how that impacts trees, and also humans. It’s actually quite scary.
“What action can you take to influence the world? What can you do that doesn’t hurt you or the people around you? What can you do that takes all that powerful energy you have and does good in the world?”
There are several interesting characters in The Eagle Tree, from March’s hardworking and patient mother, Janet Wong, to March’s kind and understanding uncle, Mike Washington. There are also great characters I wanted to know more about: Maria Elliot, a Nisqually lady who works for the Environmental Defense Council in Olympia, and March’s classmates, Stig, and Sarah.
Since March is autistic, it was absolutely fascinating and illuminating to me to be able to see what goes through his mind. Reading how sounds and lights impact March and why he interacts with people the way he does was very insightful. The author, Ned Hayes, has worked with children on the autistic spectrum, and this shows in the writing. I thought this aspect of the book was very well done.
There was a part at the end of the book that I got very emotional over, because this book called to mind my great-grandfather, who was a logger and high climber in the PNW. Having just lost my grandfather, his son, this June, I really felt this book in a different way most readers would, as I’ve recently gone through a bunch of the old logging photos and I can understand the allure of climbing trees and how brave someone is who climbs them.
“Nature is God’s vast palette, and through it I believe that we can see fingerprints of grace everywhere we look.”
So because of my personal attachment to parts of the plot, and due to the fascinating insight into someone with autism, this is a book that will stay with me for a while, and will be one I continue to think about. This would be a good discussion book, but some may have a hard time getting through the drier sections.
Bottom Line: Wonderful insight into autism. Very dry in parts, but it has a lot of heart and spotlights timely issues.
Have you read The Eagle Tree? What are your thoughts? Do you know of any other books with autistic characters? Any other books that tackle global warming?