‘A Crooked Tree’ book review: A suspenseful family drama set in the 1980s

Aiswarya Rambhatla
  • This YA coming-of-age tale explores conflict and harassment, but also the lighter side of adolescence
  • Fans of teen fiction will welcome the author’s diverse range of characters from all walks of life
Aiswarya Rambhatla |

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A Crooked Tree

A Crooked Tree

by Una Mannion

Published by Harper

ISBN 978-0063049840

Una Mannion’s A Crooked Tree is a compelling coming-of-age tale. It’s a portrayal of a dysfunctional family as seen through the eyes of Libby Gallagher, an introverted 15-year-old with an eye for anything out of the ordinary.

The story is set in 1980s North America, with the Gallaghers on a seemingly peaceful road trip. But unable to tolerate the constant fighting in the back seat, Libby’s mother orders her little sister Ellen to get out of the car and walk home.

The terrible repercussions of leaving a 12-year-old alone on the sidewalk in the middle of the night form the backbone of the remaining narrative.

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Fans of teen fiction will particularly enjoy this novel – there’s neighbourhood drama, family conflicts, and even a hint of romance.

Mannion has created a diverse range of characters from all walks of life, but the focus is mainly on Libby and her mother.

Libby’s mother is happy to let her children deal with their issues on their own. One of those issues for Libby, our narrator, is the problem of growing up in a neighbourhood where stalking and awkward crushes are commonplace.

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The book has its drawbacks. Libby’s overthinking can drag the reader away from the main plot line, and there are unnecessary details that go on for several pages.

There are also chapters about sensitive topics such as harassment that will make you squirm in your seat. But this is countered with the lighthearted moments Libby shares with her younger siblings, or when she reminisces about her childhood while her father was alive.

Mannion’s depiction of the 1980s is exceptional – one can clearly pinpoint slang and styling specific to that era, and that truly brings the story to life. Look closely, and you’ll find clever references to 80s rock and hard metal, too.

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The novel’s ending highlights a moral dilemma that’s entirely apt for its teenage readers – Libby begins to realise that there are things in life that matter more than a crazy ex or an angry best friend, and she finally sees the importance of taking responsibility in a fractured family like the Gallaghers.

Overall, A Crooked Tree provides an effective insight into the perspective of teenagers aiming to find a place in the truly “crooked” world of adulthood, with the unexpected consequences of one rash act steering the suspenseful narrative.