The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes is another book that I nominated on Kindle Scout like Melophobia and The Lost Tribe. In this case, the author's name was familiar to me. I had reviewed his rather unusual historical mystery, Sinful Folk, on Book Babe here.
It seems to me that there was a long delay between the selection of The Eagle Tree for publication by Kindle Press in October 2015 and its recent publication this May. I confess that I forgot that I had nominated it and was entitled to a free copy according to Kindle Scout's rules. So when I first encountered it on Goodreads, I became as enthusiastic as I had been when I nominated it. I then proceeded to purchase it right away on Amazon. This didn't happen with Melophobia or The Lost Tribe because the authors of those books sent me a free copy via e-mail when they were published. With The Eagle Tree, there is a link for me to claim my free copy on my Kindle Scout account which promptly informs me that I already have it. I assume that Amazon has made a policy change which means that I must now check my Kindle Scout account on a regular basis.
So why did I jump at the chance to acquire The Eagle Tree? It combines two elements that are of tremendous interest to me. The protagonist, Peter March Wong, is an autistic teen. I have reviewed some non-fiction books dealing with autism. Most recently, I wrote about In A Different Key, a history of autism in the United States which I reviewed here. This novel's protagonist is also deeply concerned with climate change and other environmental issues, as am I. I have reviewed a number of eco-fictions. Most recently I wrote about the YA climate change dystopia, The Memory of Water, here. Yet in dealing with autism and the environment, The Eagle Tree is unique. I think we need novels that depict autists as defenders of any cause that they care about.
Since today is Endangered Species Day, I will point out that The Eagle Tree deals with endangered trees and birds. I learned about why climate change is a threat to ponderosa pines and why marbled murrelets are so rare. The Procession of the Species in Olympia, Washington which was created in honor of Earth Day and Endangered Species Day is described in this book. It's a parade that involves people dressing up as non-human species. For more information see Procession of the Species Founding Principles. I am very impressed with the approach of the community to this event.
The protagonist, who prefers to be called March, is also endangered. He's endangered by his penchant for climbing very tall old growth trees, and he's endangered by people who don't understand him. Should a fourteen year old be protected from climbing injuries? Many would say that March should be kept away from trees even though they are the center of his life. After all, he has been hospitalized despite the detailed plans that he makes before embarking on a climb. Some parents might fear that autistic teens could read this book and end up in the hospital as a result of emulating March. I think that this is highly unlikely. Autists are usually very internally motivated. Parents of neurotypical teens should be more concerned. A lonely neurotypical teen with no friends could be excited by March's unusual accomplishments and consider him worthy of imitation. The book makes clear that March's activities can be extremely unsafe. I am sure that author Ned Hayes would not recommend him as a role model. So don't try climbing very tall trees at home, readers. Even if you plan it in advance, there are changeable conditions. Any mistake made in climbing an old growth tree can be fatal. March is very lucky in his climbing adventures.
Is March foolish? His courage, persistence and sense of commitment to his goals are all admirable qualities, but yes he does do foolish things. On the other hand, he also becomes an environmental hero.
There are women in March's life who are notable. His mother isn't perfect by any means. She can be fiercely protective of March, but she makes mistakes in judgement and there were points in the narrative when I wondered about her fitness as a parent. I absolutely loved March's therapist for her empathy, insightfulness, practical coping strategies and her encouragement of March's pursuit of his goals. Pastor Ilsa who studied botany before she joined the clergy is also a wonderful supportive figure in March's life.
I consider The Eagle Tree the most original piece of contemporary fiction that I've ever read about an autist, and it also excels as eco-fiction. It will definitely be among my favorite 2016 reads.