The Book of Trees

The Book of Trees

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by Leanne Lieberman

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When Mia, a Jewish teenager from Ontario, goes to Israel to spend the summer studying at a yeshiva, or seminary, she wants to connect with the land and deepen her understanding of Judaism. However, Mia's summer plans go astray when she falls in love with a non-Jewish tourist, Andrew. Through him, Mia learns about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and starts


When Mia, a Jewish teenager from Ontario, goes to Israel to spend the summer studying at a yeshiva, or seminary, she wants to connect with the land and deepen her understanding of Judaism. However, Mia's summer plans go astray when she falls in love with a non-Jewish tourist, Andrew. Through him, Mia learns about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and starts to questions her Zionist aspirations. In particular, Mia is disturbed by the Palestinian's loss of their olive trees, and the state of Israel's planting of pine trees, symbolizing the setting down of new roots. After narrowly escaping a bus bombing, Mia decides that being a peace activist is more important than being religious.

Editorial Reviews

Canadian Literature
"The novel's open-ended resolution and its portrayal of a strong, critical thinker in Mia do promise a positive future for the character...The well-told narrative and the argument that critical thinking leads to compassion and just action towards others make this novel an attractive choice for young adults."
Teen Services Librarian Kirsten Anderson
"Very eye-opening…The Book of Trees is a stand-out in Canadian Jewish literature for teens."
Puget Sound Council for Reviewing Children's Media
"Teenage girls especially will relate to Mia's self-awareness, independence, and strength, and will appreciate her attempts to find her place in an increasingly complicated adult world. Fans of other quietly contemplative, spiritually-grounded stories will enjoy the questions that Lieberman raises about faith, belonging, family, and finding one's purpose."
CM Magazine
"Well-balanced in exploring issues of faith and humanity in the Israel Palestine conflict through its Canadian teen protagonist…Recommended."
"[A] realistic, sensitively drawn story of one teen's tumultuous, coming-of-age search for faith, cultural identity, and grown-up love."
Tri State YA Book Review Committee
"The book is sure to spark controversy, but the questions raised are valid if peace is to occur...Recommended where free thinking is tolerated...This is a book that will spark good discussion."
Quill & Quire
"Lieberman's directness is refreshing."
Times & Transcript
"Food for thought that will resonate with young readers trying to understand why a country created as a haven after the Holocaust treats many of its inhabitants with so little respect."
Canadian Children's Book News
"A complex and thought-provoking book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through the fresh eyes of a Canadian teenager. Mia is a fascinating character, and an open book....More than just a book about a conflicted teenager, there are deep and important themes about social justice and equal treatment of all peoples...A great book for discussion to support a History or World Issues class."
Resource Links
"Explores the problems between Israelis and Palestinians and tries to give voice to both sides. Lieberman uses specific examples in history to explain the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and their response with terrorism…The quest for Mia to match her heart and faith with her fear of the truth is appealing to follow. The setting was richly described, letting the reader feel Israel and the need to see it firsthand…We know Mia's heart before she does, but [the plot] is sweet nonetheless."
VOYA - Jonatha Basye
"What we all need is a new Jerusalem; what we need is to start over again." Mia is looking for a fresh start. Her life has felt upside down for a while now, and she is turning to her heritage for guidance. Mia's search for self-awareness takes her to Jerusalem, the country of her Jewish ancestors. She believes that immersing herself in the Jewish faith will somehow make her complete. Mia longs for a sense of spiritualism—of being connected to something greater than herself. Her classes at the yeshiva, or seminary, give her no indication of why Jews must follow certain laws. Her trips to the Wailing Wall, the center of Jewish faith, instill no feeling of being closer to God. If anything, He is further away from her now than ever. Mia wants to explore the beautiful desert city of Jerusalem and discover her own truth. The city calls to Mia, and her resolve is waning. Is Mia strong enough to accept the answers that she will uncover on her journey? The Book of Trees is poignant, thought-provoking, and haunting at times. When Mia discovers the truth behind the Jewish National Fund trees and the places they have been planted, she is confused, horrified. How could a people who constantly discuss the power of peace inflict so much pain and suffering? Leiberman's story raises many questions, both religious and political. The reader will take this journey of self-discovery with Mia and may marvel or cower under its weight. Either way, this is a story that demands to be read, for so many different reasons. Reviewer: Jonatha Basye
VOYA - Christine Catlin
In a time when teens have little patience for heavy ramblings and undefined plots, this book would be of little interest or appeal. Though Lieberman paints an intriguing setting in the middle of the Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem, she tends to drown the readers with excessive details. At the same time, I found the protagonist, a confused teenager named Mia, to be a negative role model, shamelessly talking about past indiscretions. Reviewer: Christine Catlin, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Mia Quinn, the narrator and focus of this book, is searching for stability and spirituality. The child of a nominally Jewish mother and a footloose Christian father, Mia plunges into Orthodox Judaism as a B'al tshuvah, a reborn Jew. Prior to this experience, Mia's principal connection to Judaism are the National Jewish Fund trees that her grandmother donates to Israel in her name. Mia is immature and quixotic and it is abundantly clear that the structured life of a Jerusalem yeshiva will be a bad fit for her. She chafes at the modest clothes, the religious instruction; and the concept that for Orthodox girls, the highest calling is an arranged marriage. Her attitude toward the yeshiva's program is so disrespectful that it is not clear why the school retained her. The ultimate example of her juvenile behavior is when she gives a (religious) bride-to-be edible underwear as a shower gift. Meanwhile, while exploring forbidden parts of Jerusalem, Mia meets a North American boy, Andrew, with whom she forms an unsanctioned friendship. Andrew awakens Mia to the plight of Israeli Palestinians. Mia begins to view the NJF trees as a cover-up of Israel's "scorched Earth" policy. The problem is that Mia is uneducated and has no historical context of Jewish or Israeli history. Her sympathy for the Palestinians is simplistic. Mia's occasional bursts of rough language and her sexual activity make this book a mature teen's choice. Her narrow vision of one of the world's most complex political quagmires contributes little to a thoughtful solution to the situation. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Tired of her life of clubbing and singing in a band, Mia Quinn turns to Judaism to find direction and earns a scholarship to a girls' seminary in Jerusalem. But when she doesn't fit in and is uninspired by her classes, she begins to explore the city, struggling to make sense of the intense political situation. She befriends Andrew, an American street performer, and he soon becomes her confidant and romantic interest. After reading a book about the displacement of Arabs from Israel in 1948 and witnessing a bus bombing, Mia leaves the seminary, becomes sexually involved with Andrew, and joins the cause to rebuild Palestinian homes. While it is understandable that an inquisitive teenager would refuse to accept everything that she is taught, and Mia's decision to leave the school (and the confines of Orthodox Judaism) is inevitable, it doesn't make sense that she would so readily accept everything she reads in one small paperback and believe everything that she hears from Andrew's friends. Mia comments: "I wanted to untangle who was right or wrong, but I didn't have the whole story." Unfortunately, with no positive adults (or even better-informed young adults) to help her sort through her complicated questions, Lieberman fails to provide readers with even a small part of the whole story. The lack of historical background information, balance, and perspective makes it difficult to recommend this book. Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (Vertigo, 2010) and Marc Aronson's Unsettled: The Problem of Loving Israel (S & S, 2008) do a much better job of providing a context for exploring the complicated, highly charged issues surrounding the Israeli-Arab conflict.—Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL
Kirkus Reviews
A 17-year-old has a shallow religious epiphany followed by an equally shallow retreat from religion and political awakening. In the old days, Mia repeatedly assures us, she only wanted "to get high, make music and have sex." Now she's studying at a Jerusalem yeshiva; hoping for a spiritual reawakening, Mia has blindly decided she'll find it in Orthodox Judaism. Unfortunately, she connects neither with her classmates nor their religious or political beliefs. The more she learns about the ugly creation of Israel's national myth of a previously empty land being made green, the more barren she finds Orthodox Judaism. Her political self-education gets tangled up with her conviction that she is "sick of wearing ugly clothes," her disinterest in yeshiva studies and her lust for Andrew, the sexy guitar bum she meets in the streets of Jerusalem. The issues are vitally important, but the heroine's facile acceptance of a hot boy's pacifism is hardly convincing, the straw-man yeshiva students diminish the painful political realities and Mia just isn't likable enough to carry the tale. (Fiction. 12-13)

Product Details

Orca Book Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
806 KB
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

We stopped by a simple stone monument.

"What does it say?"

Aviva paused to read the Hebrew. "It commemorates the soldiers who died while taking the hill in the 1948 War of Independence. There was probably a village here."

"What do you mean?"

"Probably some Arab village."

I turned to Aviva. "They planted trees over an Arab village?"


"Why would they do that?"

Aviva shrugged. "To make the land beautiful, I guess."

I stared at her. Then I rubbed my temples. Aviva seemed like a stranger. My head buzzed. I wanted to say, This is not a forest. Instead I said, "What happened to the people who used to live here?"

Meet the Author

Leanne Lieberman grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her work has previously been published in The Windsor Review, The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review and other magazines. Leanne's novel Gravity was her master's thesis at the University of Windsor. Leanne works as a teacher in Kingston, Ontario, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

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The Book of Trees 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Gold Star Award Winner! Mia goes to Israel with her friend, Aviva, to learn about the Jewish faith. At once Mia is enthralled by this foreign place and all of its beautiful landmarks, but she quickly learns that everything in Israel isn't as beautiful as it seems. The Palestinians are fighting for a land that was once theirs but that now the Jews claim belongs to them. Mia learns that the Jewish religion can be quite bloody and ignorant at times, and she starts to question whether she can be a part of this faith - or any faith at all. Along this journey she meets Andrew, a handsome guitar player who seems to know more about Israel's politics than she does. So with the help of Andrew, she tries to figure out whether she can continue in this faith, and what she plans to do about the turmoil in Israel. Lieberman writes a truly wonderful book about a girl trying to figure out who she is and what she stands for while also trying to come to grips with the Jewish religion and the politics in Israel. Not only is this book touching on a personal level, but it is educational, too. It really brings to light the politics and turmoil in Israel; it helps the reader better understand what is going on in such a faraway place. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about a brave girls' journey to find love, her beliefs, and ultimately herself. It is truly inspiring and might give you the courage to find out who you are, as well.