Do I have a child? Julia DeSmit knew she would face the question eventually, but she didn’t expect it now. At twenty-four, she is finally content with the way her life has unfolded. A single mother to her son and young brother, she works at the local grocery store while chipping away at a two-year degree. All her free time is spent with her unorthodox familyher boys, her grandmother, and her boyfriend of five years. It’s not perfect, but Julia is happier than ever. So when she receives the cryptic e-mail from her son’s father, Julia’s world is turned upside down. She hasn’t heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot nearly six years ago. But one look at her sonthe spitting image of his fatheris enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story. Faced with this new reality and an unexpected tragedy, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was and what is, what she hopes for and what will be.
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
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beneath the Night Tree
By nicole baart
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Nicole Baart
All right reserved.
Daniel hummed in his sleep. It was an unconscious song, a midnight lullaby, as familiar to me as the sigh of my own breath. I fell asleep at night listening to the cadence of his dreams, and when I woke in the morning, his quiet melody was a prelude to birdsong.
I opened my eyes in the darkness and strained to see an imprint of peach on the horizon beyond my open window. It was coming, but when I blinked at the black reflection in the glass, dawn was nothing more than a promise, and Daniel's every exhalation seemed tuned to charm it into being. I pictured him in his bed, arm flung over the pillow and palm opened toward the sky as if God had set an orchestra before his still-chubby fingers. As if God had chosen my son to coax light into our little house.
Maybe He had.
If there was one thing I had learned in five years of being a single mom, it was that the Lord did exactly that: He used the small, the inconsequential, the forgotten to shame the wise. He worked in contradictions, in the unexpected. And I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if He hovered over my Daniel, drawing music from the curve of his parted lips with the gentle pull of divine fingers.
The thought made me smile, and for a moment I longed to tiptoe across the cool floorboards and be a part of it all, to slip into the tiny attic nook that was my son's bedroom. I wanted to feel my way through the shadows, stretch out beside him, and kiss the sugar-sweet little-boy mouth that puckered like a perfect bow.
But I didn't. Instead, I did what I did every day. I got up, grabbed the clothes that I had laid out the night before, and headed downstairs. If Daniel was singing, then I danced: avoiding the stair that creaked, twisting around the smooth-worn banister like a ballerina, waltzing to Simon's room, where I peeked through the crack of the mostly closed door.
My ten-year-old half brother was on his stomach, bare back exposed to the unseasonable cool of an August morning. We had all the windows flung open, and the house whispered with a light breeze. It wasn't cold, not really, but the sight of his skin made me stifle a shiver. I floated into Simon's room, a part of his dreams, and laid a blanket across his shoulders like a blessing. Schoolboy shoulders, I noticed. Thin and angular, but broadening, hinting at the strong man he would soon become as if the clean line of his skin were bursting with promise. A tight bud about to unfurl. Sometimes I still couldn't believe that she had left him here to blossom.
I touched the mop of his dark hair with my fingertips and thanked God that the child below me slept in peace. That he loved me.
When I spun into the kitchen and switched on the coffeemaker, I couldn't stop the prayer that rose, a balloon lifting beneath the cage that held my heart. Thank You, I breathed in the silence. For Daniel, for Simon, for my grandmother, who still slipped from bed not long after I turned on the shower to whisk pancake batter or fold blueberries into muffins for breakfast. Thank You for the four corners of our family and the way that we folded into each other like one of my grandma's quilts. Edges coming together, softening.
Most of all, I was grateful for the stillness of the predawn hush, for the short reprieve when everything was dark and new, emerging. It was in these moments as the day was still lifting its head that I could believe everything was exactly as it should be instead of the way it was.
Not that life was horrible—far from it. But as the weeks and months circled on, I couldn't deny that our ramshackle family was often more off than on. The whole thing reminded me of Daniel's birthday present: a carved model train track. Though the sleek, red engine could pull a chain of cars around the twining loops for hours on end, there inevitably came a moment when a single wheel tripped off the track. Who knew what caused the quiet stumble? It was a magician's trick, a sleight of hand—everything bustling along one minute and struggling the next. But the train kept going; the engine pulled on. It just dragged the coal cars behind it, clacking unevenly all the way.
I felt just like that engine, hauling everything in my wake. Hauling everyone in my wake.
When I pulled back the shower curtain, it became obvious that the DeSmit family train was already well on its way to derailment. There were worms in the bathtub, a dozen or more squirming in a mound of dirt so rich and black it made me think of cake. Devil's food.
I had specifically told Daniel not to put worms in the bathtub and had even given him an ice cream bucket in which to store his newest collection. My son needed to have his hearing checked again, I decided. But it was an exercise in futility. I knew that what plagued Daniel wasn't a hearing problem; it was a listening problem.
As I deposited handfuls of squirming earthworms into the bucket I rescued from the front porch, I felt the momentary bliss of my morning slackening its fragile hold. Hot on the heels of the stark reminder that Daniel was an angel only when he slept came a familiar twinge of worry for Simon, the boy who earned his wings in a thousand different ways. By the time I finally stepped into the mud-streaked shower and turned it on full blast, I could feel concern overflow my fists like worry stones too heavy to hold.
Handsome as Simon was, and growing more mature by the day, he still wore loss like a chain around his neck, heavy and awkward, dragging his head down. He loved us, I knew that, but he missed her. And why shouldn't he? Janice was a terrible mother to me, and yet I missed her every single day. I felt her absence in the shadowed corners of my heart, where longing echoed. It was a sound track of hurt—soft, but always there.
And Janice had been a good mom to Simon. Or at least, as good as she could bring herself to be. No wonder he bore her ghost like an anchor.
"Do you like it here?" I asked him once, in the beginning, when Janice's departure could still be considered nothing more than an extended trip. I had wanted to ask him, Do you like us? but I couldn't bring myself to say those exact words.
All the same, Simon's eyes sprang to mine, wide and startled. The question was innocent, but the look on his five-year-old face told me that the answer wasn't quite so benign.
"It's okay," I said then, reaching to ruffle his hair. "You don't have to—"
"I do," he interrupted me, and his voice cracked with the emotion behind the words. "I like it here."
It took years for me to realize that the problem wasn't Simon's affection for this newfound family and home; it was his own fears about our affection for him. No matter how hard we tried to make him believe that he was a part of us, I knew he continued to battle the personal pain of wondering, deep down, if he was an outsider.
And the problem was only exacerbated at Mason Elementary. Although I was quite sure that Simon was off-the-charts brilliant, the sort of student every teacher longed to shape and mold, he dreaded the start of a new school year. I knew it, even though he had never ventured to so much as whisper a word against his classmates.
As far as I could tell, the kids were decent to him. Mason was a rural community, and the area boasted a substantial population of Latin American immigrants, many of them already second or third generation. The local schools were, at least in theory, diverse and welcoming. Simon seemed to fit right in. Sometimes, when people mistook him for Mexican, he didn't even bother to correct them or point out his North African roots.
But there were other things that set him apart. Like the fact that he was parentless—I knew the pain of that particular stigma all too well. Or that he lived with his half sister, whom most of Mason considered a child herself and only fourteen years his senior. An unwed mother on top of it all. And no one could forget that the woman Simon called Grandma shared no blood ties with him, or that the boy he named brother was in fact his half nephew. In a community where families were formed along staunchly traditional lines—cue the theme song from Leave It to Beaver—our home was a mismatched patchwork that was more than just an aberration from the norm. It was a source of almost-morbid fascination.
I groaned and turned to face the stream pouring from our antiquated shower faucet. The water coursed over my forehead, pooled in my open mouth. It'll be fine, I told myself for the thousandth time. We'll be just fine.
"Mom! I have to go pee!" Daniel's fists on the bathroom door sent shock waves through the quiet worry that shaped my morning.
Spitting out a mouthful of lukewarm water, I called, "Almost done! I'll be out in a minute."
"A minute? That's, like, forever. I can't wait that long!"
"Give me a break," I muttered, turning off the faucet and throwing back the shower curtain. The brass hooks screeched against the metal rod in perfect harmony with my mood.
Before hopping in the shower, I had laid my towel on the back of the toilet, and when I reached for it now, I realized that the old porcelain was beaded with sweat from the steamy room. I had forgotten to turn on the bathroom fan, and even the rose pink wallpaper of the tiny room was covered in rainbow-colored droplets. I stifled a sigh, forcing myself not to think about mold and mildew and rot. We were already battling enough of that in the cellar beneath the mudroom.
"My towel's wet," I told Daniel through the door. "Could you grab me a clean one from the linen closet?"
Whipping the damp towel around me, I unlocked the bathroom door and threw it open. "A little patience would be nice," I chided Daniel. But even though I was annoyed, I couldn't resist reaching a hand to smooth the sleep-creased skin of his cheek.
"Get out of the way!" he screeched, yanking me by the wrist. When he could wedge himself between the doorframe and my dripping form, Daniel threw his shoulder into my side and deposited me in the hallway that opened onto the kitchen. The door slammed at my back.
"Good morning." Grandma smiled from the counter.
"Good is a relative term," I told her.
"The sun is shining."
I turned to look out the window over the sink. "So it is."
"You have a beautiful son."
Though I cocked an eyebrow at her, I felt my lips rise in assent.
"But you are leaving a puddle on the floor."
When I looked down to assess the damage, rivulets of water from my drenched hair deepened the gathering pool at my feet. "Sorry. I got kicked out of the bathroom."
"I heard." Grandma opened a drawer and extracted a flour-sack towel. "Here. It's thin, but it'll help."
I crossed the room and took the towel from her outstretched hand. Wrapping it turban-style around my hair, I gave her a wry grin. "I'd go upstairs and get dressed, but I left my clothes in the bathroom with Daniel."
"They're going to be wet." Grandma's smile was apologetic. "When I got up, I could tell that you forgot to turn the fan on."
"I was distracted," I muttered, trying to defend myself. "Daniel put worms in the bathtub again."
"Remind me why the bathtub is prime earthworm real estate?"
"Who knows? Daniel's mind is a mystery."
Grandma laughed. "Right you are. Why don't you head upstairs and find some dry clothes? By the time you come down, I'll have coffee on the table."
"Sounds great." I did a quick scan of the kitchen counter and realized that she hadn't started breakfast yet. "But I'm in charge of grub this morning. You, sit. Put your feet up. I'll make French toast."
"French toast?" Simon enthused, stifling a yawn. He had materialized in the archway that led to our small living room, and I was stunned by how he seemed to fill the space.
"Yup," I told him, swallowing the feeling that I was looking at a young man instead of a boy. "Good morning, by the way."
He removed his glasses, rubbed his still-sleepy eyes, and replaced the plastic frames on his nose with a yawn. Finally taking the time to focus on me, he gasped. "Get some clothes on, Jules!"
"It's not like I'm naked."
"You're wearing a towel!"
Grandma and I exchanged amused looks as he hurried back to his room.
"I think you may have scarred him for life," she laughed when we heard his door slam.
"Only if I'm lucky." I was trying to be funny, but suddenly Grandma's eyes glazed over. It was a quick change, a transformation that I was starting to get used to. She misted over easily these days. "Hey," I whispered, tightening my towel with one hand and squeezing her arm with the other. "I was only teasing."
"I know." Grandma sniffed and patted my fingers where they rested on the terry-cloth arm of her robe. She was staring at the place where Simon had stood as if she could see the faint glow of the aura he left behind. "But I worry about him."
"You don't think we're ...?"
"Yes," she breathed, the word so faint it was barely voiced.
"No," I assured her. "No, we're not."
"But our house is so small."
"You mean cozy."
"We're practically on top of each other, Julia."
"It draws us together."
"Simon is surrounded by women."
I laughed. "There're only two of us. And two of them, I'll remind you. The boys are hardly outnumbered."
"A little privacy would be nice...."
"Tell me about it," I groaned, drawing her attention to my towel toga with a gentle hip-to-hip bop.
Grandma shook her head and covered her eyes with one hand, but I could tell that the mood had passed. "We're not exactly your typical family unit."
"It's okay," I said, bestowing a kiss on the lined knuckles that hid her expression. "We're doing the best we can."
"Is it enough?"
It was the question I asked myself every single day. But I didn't tell her that. Instead I parroted the words I had heard her say a hundred times. A thousand. "It has to be."
I made my way upstairs, leaving Daniel to his morning routine, Simon to his preteen disgust, and Grandma to her thoughts. It felt selfish, almost indulgent, that I stole away when everyone was, for one reason or another, preoccupied with their own concerns. As I gathered a new outfit from the drawers of my old-fashioned bureau, I wished for a moment that I could crawl back between the sheets of my double bed. I'd yank the duvet over my head and pretend that Daniel was obedient, Simon well-adjusted, and Grandma a decade younger. Maybe more. I could use another adult in this house with energy to match my own.
Twenty-four, I thought, yanking on a pair of khaki cargo shorts. I'm almost a quarter of a century old. Sometimes I felt double my age.
And maybe I was. My life seemed divided in two. There was the mundane, the everyday, the work. The frustration and wondering and worry. The times when I felt like no matter what I did, it was the wrong thing to do. And then there were the moments that transcended it all. The laughter, the warmth, the awed understanding that in spite of everything, we were so blessed.
Sometimes I woke up and believed, really believed, that God sang over us.
Had I felt that way only an hour ago?
"What do you want from me?" I asked the reflection in the mirror on my wall. The woman in question just stared back. I wasn't even sure who I was talking to. Myself? The three people who depended on me downstairs? God? I might be failing all of them, but heaven help me, I was trying. It had to be enough.
Straightening my Asian print T-shirt, I gave the hazel-eyed girl in the mirror a nod of encouragement. "You're doing just fine," I told her.
I almost believed myself.
Excerpted from beneath the Night Tree by nicole baart Copyright © 2011 by Nicole Baart. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After reading the first two in this series, I was excited to see how everything concluded. I love the reality of what the main character was dealing with. It is a likely conflict that anyone in that same situation could face or even a person in a long distance relationship. The way it ended could be seen the further into the story you get. Even though some of it became a little predictable, it was still so good I read it twice.
This book was really good. You have an idea where is headed, but it gets to that point in a bit different way than expected. Kept my interest during the story. Grab tissues toward the end.
I found this book to start off slow, but I haven't read the previous ones in the series (which I didn't know there was until the end of this book when they were mentioned!) It was an okay read. This book is far more character driven, following a 24 year old girl, Julia, with her son and her step-brother / pretty much son. It is also very predictable. But I still enjoyed reading it.
Beneath the Night Tree, by Nicole Baart, is a great book. I love how Julia's story unfolds. This is a must read book!
A broken family discovers healing through the commitment of an unexpected individual. Desertion, an unplanned pregnancy, and the saving grace of a loving grandmother bind these individuals together over difficult times and heartache. Someone from the past makes an appearance in the lives of this family, and creates chaos in the balance of Julia's relationships with her boyfriend, and uncertainty in her son's life. Julia's plans appear to be taking an unplanned turn that could affect her entire family's future. I fell in love with this family and the dynamics which make them unique. Their devotion to one another is a beautiful example. The second in a series of three books, this book easily stands on its own merits. I highly recommend!
This book was an easy read, and I couldn't put it down until it was done. It really hit home for me, and I was able to relate to it. Nicole Baart did a great job, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.
Life's unexpected paths give unimagined blessings Julia is anticipating a future with the man she's been dating for five years, but the question he asks her is not the one she was hoping for. While contemplating what to do in response, her life stays busy with her family - five-year-old son Daniel, half-brother Simon and her mother. The following weeks and months bring more surprises for the family - including an email from Daniel's long-gone father. It's about learning to embrace what happens in life and not wasting time wishing for things that did not. A fun and heartwarming novel, perfect for a summer afternoon. (Or night, if you can't put it down...! :-)
I will miss Julia and her family. This book touched me and made me feel like I was a part of this complex and yet, loving family.
Talented author and a favorite book of mine.
This third book in a manifest of writings by Nicole Baart deals again with the idea of being able to start over in life. The beginning of the novel I found quite dry reading, and had to really force myself to keep track of the main characters and piece the theme together as I progressed. Grandma Nellie, as one would surmise, is someone we would all do well to have in our lives: full of sage, patience, dry humor, yet also quirky in her mannerisms. After persistent toward the middle of the book, the main character, Julia DeSmit does seem to have the usual dilemma of choosing between her carefree and organized love of life or accept the past/present realities of life's offerings and come down to a verity of day to day present pain and truth. The reader watches the characters grow and face a milieu of faith building aspects that lead to and enter into a surprise yet comfortable conclusion for the ending. The reader is also engaged and delighted with the meaning and subtleties of the title of the book. This was a book I reviewed for Tyndale House Publishers.
When I picked up this book, I didn't know it was the 3rd in a series that I had not read until after I finished it. It could stand alone, but perhaps explains why it seemed difficult to know and understand the main character at first. I enjoyed the storyline very much but found it to be highly predictable. After the first few chapters, I could guess exactly what was going to happen, and turns out I was right! Still, it was delightful to read and I really liked the author's writing style. I want to read other books by this author.
At age 24 Julia loves taking pictures capturing the world through the lens of her camera. She and her brother Simon 10, and her son Daniel 5 live with Grandma Nellie on the DeSmit farm. Her boyfriend Michael speaks of future plans and asking her to leave all she knows behind but Julia realizes that Simon and Daniel have a stake in this too. After all what would her life be like without the 3 of them? When she was on her computer going through her email she came across a message which causes her to remember the past she has tried so hard to forget. What will happen with the email and how will it impact the relationships she now has? Not having read the first two in the series I have to say that I was able to become attached to the characters right away and feel that the novel stands alone. An excellent novel that I throughly enjoyed and I would recommend it.
I had read the first two books in this "series" quite some time ago, not realizing that there was another soon to come - so I was really pleased to find out what was going on with Julia DeSmit. We pick up a few years after the last book left off and some new family dynamics have formed, with Julia looking ahead to the larger future. The overall theme? I felt it was redemption, something I personally can't read enough about. Without giving too much away, she makes some tough decisions, this book made me think, and I was simultaneously really glad I read it and sorry when it was over. It left me wanting more and I highly recommend all three books.
Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart. This is her third book in her series about Julia Desmit and her life from when she became a single mother and the trials that followed. The first book was After the Leaves Fall, the second was Summer Snow. Each of her books are extremely well written and very hard to put down. I found myself mesmerised by the storyline and what all she goes thru with her unorthodox family. All the books are stories about a young girl's struggle with loss, love, identity and faith with characters that are hard to forget and a story that you won't forget either. These are books that I would reread again-they are that good!!
Everything seems to be coming together in Julia's life. She enjoys her job, likes her college courses, is in love with a wonderful man, and is learning how to be a good mom to her son and her younger brother. When she receives an email from her son's father, her entire world is tilted upside-down. One thing after the other continues to upset the perfect life Julia has always dreamed of and thought she finally had in her reach. Beneath the Night Tree by Nicole Baart was surprisingly refreshing as far as Christian fiction goes. Much more than just a simple romance, readers will feel the depth of emotion of Julia and her "dysfunctional" but well-loved family. Themes of trust and hope were prevalent throughout. I especially loved the relationship between Julia and her grandmother. I enjoyed the style of writing as well, and Nicole Baart has earned a spot on my list of new favorite authors. This is the third book in a series about Julia. However, it also stands alone. I highly recommend this novel and will be reading others by Nicole Baart in the (hopefully near) future. I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my fair and honest review.
Julia not only readily admits to being a part of a patchwork family but finds comfort in it. Julia, her grandmother, son and younger brother all live on a farm in Mason, Iowa. But she can feel her world slowly starting to crumble. Her ten-year-old brother is quickly becoming a teenager, still grieving his mother walking out on him over five years ago. Her grandmother isn't getting younger and the fact that she will one day be gone scares Julia. She loves her five-year-old son but wonders if she's doing enough? She and her boyfriend have been dating for five years but she wants more. With him living six hours away, time together is limited. When he finally proposes, Julia wants to be excited but finds herself feeling as if something's missing. Complicating things further is the entrance of her son's father. She hasn't seen him since she told him she was pregnant. What could he want? Why is he coming into her life now? I give this book five stars! I've not read any other books by Baart but I'm definitely adding her to my "to read" list. She writes in such a way that I'm able to instantly identify with Julia and experience her highs and lows with her. The story moved at such a pace to keep me interested, wondering what would happen next. I really liked Parker, Daniel's father. He was introduced in such a way that I wasn't sure if he'd be a "bad guy" or not but his role soon became apparent. I enjoyed Baart's sense of humor and I now want to make my own night tree :-).
I admit this was a hard one for me to initially get interested in. I put off getting started reading it, I just was not feeling it. Even after starting it the first few chapters were a slow read for me. About halfway through I realized I was finally becoming drawn into the story and understanding the main character Julia a bit better. by the last pages I was hooked and wanted to know what her fate would be. Over all I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars, even though I was not easily captivated in the end I was very drawn to the book. I liked how it ended I will admit I wanted to Julia to do what she did in the end I guess that does not make much sense, but I can not tell you what she did our it would spoil the ending!! Disclaimer: I did recieve a free copy of this book from Tyndale Media for review purposes. The company did not influence my review in any way the opinions in this post are my opinions.