Book: T IS FOR TREE
Author: Greg Fowler
Publisher: Ink Road Publishers
ARC?: Yes, provided through NetGalley for an honest review.
TW/CW: Abuse of a disabled person, slurs against a disabled person, child abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide.
Eddy knows he’s not like other teenagers. He doesn’t look like them. He doesn’t think like them. He doesn’t go to school or have friends like they do. Eddy’s not even allowed to leave his bedroom – except on shower day of course. He doesn’t know why; all Eddy knows is that he’s different.
Abandoned by his mother and kept locked away by his grandmother, Eddy must spend his life watching the world go by from his bedroom window. Until Reagan Crowe moves in next door and everything starts to change. She’s kind, funny, beautiful, and most importantly, she’s Eddy’s first friend. Over time, Reagan introduces Eddy to the strange and wonderful world outside his bedroom: maths, jam, love.
But growing up isn’t that simple for either of them. And Eddy has a secret. The tree that’s slowly creeping in through his window from the garden is no ordinary tree. But then again, Eddy’s no ordinary boy. He’s special…
THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS AND DISCUSS EVERYTHING LISTED IN THE TW/CW ABOVE.
It takes a lot to truly horrify me when it comes to books. This book horrified me and a day later, I am still raging mad that anyone would think this book was a good idea.
While this book never openly says what Eddy’s disability is, I received an email that this book was originally self-published as JAM SANDWICHES and the blurb for that book stated Eddy has Down Syndrome. I’m not sure why this was omitted from this version of the book. The only thing mentioned about Eddy’s disability is that his face “doesn’t look normal”, he stutters, and has supposedly has a learning disability.
The book starts with Eddy as a newborn. His mother, Hailey, is running away from the hospital because she says couldn’t “bear the thought of a lifetime of disapproving glances. All of those ‘I told you so’s’ “. She approaches Eddy’s crib and thinks “I can’t love this thing.” When I first read this, I thought that maybe Hailey was extremely young and the disapproving looks would come from her being a young, unwed mother. But when the first chapter starts and we’re introduced to Eddy as a 12 year old, it become apparent that his mother fled because he has some kind of disability (again, it’s never said in this version what Eddy’s diagnosis was). Right away, that put me on the defense. Not only does this girl abandon her child because of his disability, she even says she can’t love this thing.
Hailey takes away Eddy’s personhood before he’s even a few hours old. She doesn’t see him as her child, she sees him as some disposable thing- a mistake she can simply walk away from.
The first chapter starts with Grandma Daisy, Hailey’s mother and Eddy’s grandmother, waking Eddy up for “shower day”. Eddy undresses and waits naked by the door of his attic room for Grandma Daisy to escort him to the shower. Eddy says that he doesn’t mind shower days because it gives him a chance to ‘see new stuff’. It’s then that we are told that Eddy is not allowed to leave his room. Grandma Daisy escorts him to the shower which is already running with lukewarm water. Eddy says that she makes him shower on days that she does laundry, so he doesn’t get but a few seconds of warm water and then it turns icy cold. He is not allowed to leave the shower until she comes back to get him which means he would have to squeeze into the corner of the shower to try and avoid the spray when the water became to unbearably cold. During this time, Eddy looks at himself in the mirror (something he says he has to hide from Grandma Daisy) and explains that he looks different “in the eyes… but the rest of the face, too.” He says when he asked Grandma Daisy about why he looks different she simply said, “That’s what dumb looks like.”
Grandma Daisy’s abuse doesn’t end there. Throughout the book, she withholds meals from him when he does something she doesn’t like or when she just doesn’t feel like bringing his dinner up (Eddy, again, is not allowed to leave his room even for meals). When she does bring him food, it seems very sparse. Cornflakes and water seems to be most of his meals.
When Eddy’s caseworker comes out, Grandma Daisy tells him that he has to be on his best behavior because if he doesn’t, she’ll take him to a “special school” where they beat children like him. She puts this fear into Eddy so that he doesn’t say anything about the conditions or his treatment because if Eddy was taken away from her, she would lose the money the government gives her to care for him. When the caseworker comes, it’s apparent that Grandma Daisy also neglects Eddy’s intellectual needs. At 12, he doesn’t know his alphabet and when she asks him to name something that starts with a T, he says ‘bed’.
Eddy is also subjected to cruelty by the neighborhood kids. Eddy’s only interaction with the outside world is what he can see from his window. Early in the book, two of the neighborhood boys approach the window and while they call Eddy a freak, they offer him friendship if he will stand up on a chair, wet his pants, and then throw his clothes down to them and stand naked in front of the window. Eddy tells them he’ll get in trouble but they promise they will wash his clothes and bring them right back ‘in five minutes’. Eddy, starved for friendship, does what they ask. After he throws the clothes out of his window, they openly mock him before running away, leaving him naked in front of the window and his soiled clothes on the lawn. Grandma Daisy comes in and instead of trying to figure out what happened, flies into a rage, and makes Eddy wear nothing but a diaper for a week. Even when she starts realizing what happened when the boys come back to taunt Eddy, she still treats him badly. Eddy says, “… from that point on she hadn’t been so angry. In fact, he’d even had some sugar on his cereal this morning.” So instead of apologizing to Eddy, she throws some sugar on his cornflakes and water and seems to think that makes up for making a 12 year old wear nothing but a diaper. He mentions that she catches the boys jeering at Eddy and “really lets them have it” but later in the book she says that she will not be made fun of because of Eddy. It wasn’t Eddy she was trying to protect by running those boys off, it was her own feelings.
During this time, the tree outside Eddy’s window starts growing inside of his bedroom. The tree is apparently magical and becomes Eddy’s friend. It’s around this time that the caseworker threatens to take Eddy away if he doesn’t start improving. She tells Grandma Daisy that many kids “like him” are able to learn and she was troubled that Eddy didn’t know the basics. Instead of trying to teach Eddy, Grandma Daisy tells him “he better learn” or he’d have to go to the place where “they beat boys”. This is what bothers me about his story as far as Eddy’s “learning disability” goes. The book wants us to believe that the tree helps Eddy learn. But it’s clear that Eddy had taught himself how to read a little before the tree even started to invade his room. Does Eddy actually have a learning disability? I lean towards no. If a child is stuck in the attic with no one to teach them, no social interaction, and no knowledge of the world outside of their room… but still manages to teach themselves ANYTHING, that’s not a disability. That’s pretty damn smart.
Reagan moves in next door when Eddy is 12. I don’t want to talk about their friendship too much because, honestly, the whole thing was kind of boring. They had a pretty regular friendship, sharing their days and stories. The book skips 3 years and Eddy and Reagan are still friends and end up sharing a kiss. Reagan’s family dissolves after her dad loses his job, becomes an alcoholic, and gives Reagan a black eye.
Two years later (when they are both 17), this story reaches it’s absolute worst point.
Grandma Daisy has “realized the error of her ways”. The whole thing was really strange (the tree told Eddy to remind her who planted the tree) and while she sort of apologizes and lets Eddy leave his room, that doesn’t make up for the years of abuse and neglect. It doesn’t and I hate that she is never held accountable for what she did. In fact, no one is ever punished for how they treated Eddy. He just forgives them and their half-assed apologies. How CPS never intervened is beyond me.
Reagan is now a troubled teenager. She’s dating an older boy, sneaks out of the house, and becomes enraged when Eddy refuses to accept an expensive gift that he knows she stole. One night the tree “tells” Eddy that the other boy is trying to rape Reagan outside of their house and Eddy rescues her.
Eddy is studying hard for his GCSE exams. When he gets his grades back, he has apparently gotten nearly perfect scores and is offered a scholarship to the best sixth-form college in their area. Reagan failed but decided to redo the year over with Eddy’s help.
While she’s studying, Reagan becomes weaker and weaker. After several months of being sick, they discover she has cancer and she isn’t going to make it. Eddy figures out he can use the magical tree to give his life for Reagan. So he does. Eddy commits suicide so that Reagan can live.
And that is fucked up.
Eddy admits that he loves Reagan several times. People know Eddy loves Reagan, knows that he has gone above and beyond to help her out, but no one expects Reagan to think of Eddy as anything more than her buddy because he’s “different”. And in the end, Eddy gives up his life, his chance to go to college, to save the “normal” girl. I can’t put into words how angry that makes me. Eddy’s life isn’t worth less than Reagan’s. Eddy is a boy who worked hard to learn, to grow… and he lets that all go because Reagan “deserves” life because she isn’t “different”.
The book ends with Eddy’s mother coming back… with her two “perfect” children in tow.
The finally lines of the book are a note Eddy sent Hailey. It says: “I’m not a stupid boy anymore. I’m a beautiful boy now, Mum.”
My hatred for this book is overwhelming. Not only is Eddy treated like shit, abused, and kept locked away for most of his life, the author pounds it in that Eddy’s life is only worthy, only beautiful because he GAVE IT UP FOR A ‘NORMAL’ PERSON. Who thought this book was a good idea? Who read this and thought it was a great story? I am disgusted beyond belief that this book is seeing the light of day.
Disabled people are not here to make nondisabled people look good. Disabled people aren’t here to lift nondisabled people’s lives. Eddy should have gotten his chance to go to college, to live outside his bubble. Eddy should not have had to die in order to feel like he was good.
I don’t recommend this book. If I could go back and unread this, I would.