ROPES Book Awards: Lorna's Pick
Tree (Una Mannion)
Faber & Faber, January 2021
pp. 319, £12.99
I nominated Una Mannion’s debut novel, A Crooked Tree, for the ROPES Book Awards because I want everyone to fall in love with this book just as hard as I did. The story follows the Gallagher children as they try to navigate the repercussions of their mother’s rash decision to leave their twelve-year-old sister, Ellen, to walk home alone in the dark. After Ellen attempts to hitchhike come, the novel kicks into action as the children live in fear of the ‘Barbie Man’, an aptly named long-haired creep whom Ellen encountered – and escaped – on her long walk home.
The book wasn’t perfect from page one, but Mannion smooths out the rough edges and develops a piece that is a true testament to both her skill and her growth as an artist. Her descriptions of the natural landscape of Valley Forge ground the novel and are tightly intertwined with the grief of our protagonist, Libby, for her late Irish father and with her understanding of the world. Equally strong is her transportive evocation of 1980s America, skilfully characterised by its disintegrating family units, blurred (but lingering) class lines, and a crumbling trust in authority.
Mannion’s talent grows as Libby matures and the momentum that she builds over the course of the novel carries you like a riptide to the final page. A Crooked Tree is not only a considered study in grief, childhood and American society but in Mannion herself as a writer, whose budding skill blossoms over the course of one fateful and dramatic summer.