literaturetypeface – Review of Family Tree


So this is one of those novels you sit back afterward and take a breath because you’ve just been run through the emotional wringer.  This is a novel about a woman, Angel, trying to pick up the pieces of her life — after being picked up for drug charges — when she finds out that outside her cell and the walls she’s locked behind, her sister has committed suicide.  Not only this, but it’s her young son that was the one to find Lady after she had committed suicide.

This novel takes aim at the incarceration system in the United States on a subtle note, and that’s important.  In the U.S., African Americans are imprisoned more frequently than anyone else and most of the time it’s not because they’re guilty, and if they are guilty, they’re given far more severe penalties for crimes that white people get away with.  Where most white Americans get away with a slap on the wrist, African Americans are more likely to get 10+ years and harsher treatment.  The system is broken.

Within the novel, though, the events that happen are both saddening and empowering for Black readers.  Angel’s mothering instincts go into hyperdrive, despite her desperate situation, and shows us that human beings are far more complex than their actions.  When it comes to our families, society takes a back seat.  Human beings shouldn’t be defined for their crimes — if I take anything else from this emotional novel, it is that message.

There are also important class dynamics at play in the story.  The pressures the main character, Angel, experienced from her family and others, to be of an excellent caliber in a society that wants POC to fail, somehow brought Angel to where she ends up.  While jail is never the place anyone wants to be, Angel finds some of the structure and stability she had lost — and finds out her own strength as a mother to a struggling child.

Another note before I close this review — the novel also takes aim at a failing mental health system.  Mental health being stigmatized, ignored, misdiagnosed, mistreated, among so many other things, has a huge effect on what Angel and her family goes through.

What this family endures, learns about one another, and experiences, is both painful and gut-wrenching.  This novel brought to light a lot of feelings for me, though I have never been through what this family has been through, and it was left in the same tone it began.  This is a devastatingly lovely novel about family and the fractures caused by outside influences and a broken system.  It’s definitely a book one must read.