Rarely does a book so quickly grip me in its first pages, but The Which Way Tree has done it with a harrowing story of survivalon the Texas frontier during the Civil War. Bringing to mind the tight narratives of Charles Portis, the novel weaves a story of violence, survival and frontier justice.
Early one morning a panther attacks young Samantha outside of the homestead where she lives. Her mother is killed when she intervenes and the attack leaves Samantha terribly disfigured. From that day on, Samantha can think of nothing but avenging her mother’s death and killing the panther.
The Which Way Tree (Little, Brown and company, digital galley), by Elizabeth Crook, is narrated by Samantha’s older, half-brother Benjamin. When their father dies shortly following the panther attack, Benjamin and Samantha are left to eek out a meager existence in a remote hill country where they are plagued by the ravages of a shoddy house, a “Yankee” blockade, Comanche Indians and violent Sesesh (secessionists).
When an opportunity to track the panther presents itself, the siblings and an eccentric cast of sidekicks set off in pursuit of the legendary beast. The Which Way Tree is a testament to the human spirit to overcome obstacles and to find meaning in even the most dire of circumstances.