There is something I love almost as much as a good book; something that warms my insides and makes me sigh with satisfaction.
That something is pancakes: Pancakes dripping with real maple syrup.
So when I learned that the lead character of Susan Wiggs’ new novel, Family Tree, was a part of a family business that makes maple syrup in Vermont, I was salivating from the first page. And luckily, the heartwarming story kept me just as enthralled as the food.
I instantly loved protagonist Annie Harlow, a woman who created a cooking show out of a love for her grandmother’s influence in the kitchen. She’s stayed behind the scenes, accepting her role as producer rather than host, and trying to make a marriage work to a man who obviously loves himself more than he could ever love her. She dreamed of being in front of the camera, but gave the spotlight instead to her egotistical husband and his young co-host.
Everything changes when Annie makes a devastating discovery just moments before a freak accident leaves her in a coma for over a year. And you better believe that the landscape looks vastly different when she wakes up. It includes a marriage that no longer exists, a future that is now filled with uncertainty, and memories of a man from her past that won’t stop flooding her new life. Devastated, she returns home to Switchback, Vermont, a town filled with people she left behind long ago.
At the heart of Family Tree is the blossoming romance between Annie and Fletcher, her high-school sweetheart and the one that got away. He’s always carried a torch for Annie, ever since family obligations made him push her away when they were first together. Now that she’s back in town, he can’t seem to pull himself away from her, even though she can’t remember their past together. She’s the girl he never stopped loving—and in time, her mind and her heart begin to recall those same feelings, which draw her back to him.
As Annie seeks to build a new life, she also begins to remember bits of her past—from flashbacks to how she and Fletcher first met, to the sweet memories of their initial romance—and readers will relish discovering the truth of those lost memories right alongside her. It’s heartwarming to see her and Fletcher’s reconnection; first as friends, and then as more.
By chronicling Annie’s journey to recovery from a brain injury, which is sensitively and accurately depicted, along with the challenges she faces as she learns how to live independently, Wiggs’ story goes beyond romance and opens the reader up to a tale of endurance and determination. The novel also moves between past and present, which offers the reader a chance to understand the backstory behind each character. (It also serves as a great opportunity to learn more about the maple syrup production business and how it has shaped Annie’s family.) You aren’t just drawn into Annie and Fletcher’s romance; you are also enveloped by the network of their supportive friends and families—including those who once turned their backs on the pair’s youthful relationship, but who now see the beauty in having them find each other when they needed it most.
From the mouth-watering descriptions of the recipes Annie creates while finding her way back to happiness, to the rekindling of a romance with an old flame, Family Tree engages all of your senses, while it tugs at your heartstrings. In the end, it warms you in all the right places and leaves you filled with blissful satisfaction. Just like pancakes with maple syrup.