" 'Preacher Dob said, Vengeance belongs to the Lord, Samantha. She said, Only if he can beat me to it.' This told me everything I needed to know about Samantha Shreve, a character who knocked my socks off from her first appearance on the page. This book is the stuff of legends, tales told for a hundred years around Texas campfires. Written in a form that is historically accurate and yet feels painstakingly intimate,
The Which Way Tree is unlike anything I've read before."-- Attica Locke, author of Bluebird, Bluebird " The Which Way Tree is adventurous, suspenseful, and charming...you're going to want to read this one."-- Elizabeth Entenman, HelloGiggles " The Which Way Tree is one part Track of the Cat, one part True Grit, and one part Tom Sawyer, a ruthless pedigree for a novel that displays human nature in its most beautiful form--a marvel."-- Craig Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of TheWestern Star, a Walt Longmire mystery " The Which Way Tree is unlike anything I've read before...an enthralling adventure, a Texas fairy tale in the truest sense of that term."-- Michelle Newby, Lone Star Literary Life "A multilayered tale . . . Benjamin Shreve, the teenage narrator of The Which Way Tree, unspools his tale of Civil War-era Texas in a voice that is utterly convincing, consistent, and believable. Crook never slips out of that voice for a moment. This is no small feat given that the tale involves Benjamin's demented half sister, the infamous massacre of Union-sympathizing German immigrants by local Confederates, and a giant panther. Any first-person voice involving a young Southern boy invites comparisons to Huck Finn. But dialects have complexities and Crook appears to be a master of them. Benjamin's voice swings between the rhythms of the Southern hills and the lofty, elevated tone encountered in Twain and contemporary Westerns . . . His speech can switch from hyperbole to understatement in the same sentence--and it is a wonderfully deadpan understatement . . . The language is arresting . . . The Which Way Tree is a commendable and very readable addition to the tale-spinning tradition and its beautiful use of language."-- Paulette Jiles, New York Times Book Review "A ripping adventure...Benjamin is a boyishly charming chronicler of the crazed hunt...Samantha's unfinished business leads the makeshift hunters through a gauntlet of disasters to the novel's show-stopping finale. 'Vengeance belongs to the Lord, ' the preacher chides her, to which she answers, 'Only if he can beat me to it.'"-- Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal "An absorbing coming-of-age novel...Benjamin is a keen observer and reliable narrator...These adventure tales, if told well, are plenty riveting and enduring. The Which Way Tree is told well."-- Rod Davis, Texas Observer "Crook manages in The Which Way Tree the striking feat of not only capturing the voice of a 19th century youth as honestly and compellingly as Mark Twain but also having her Texas Huck recount a Moby Dick-like pursuit across Texas in which the White Whale is a malevolent mountain lion and its Ahab is a girl it mauled while killing her mother."-- Austin Chronicle "Crook's slim, intimate novel illustrates how, at their best, historical westerns provide insight into human nature tested by the sort of extreme conditions that rarely crop up in contemporary American settings."-- Texas Monthly "Elizabeth Crook has created a book of marvels. Its comedy is steeped in the hardscrabble tragedies of a wilder old America. You will even catch an echo of Twain's wit in the picaresque narration."-- Luis Alberto Urrea, author of the national bestseller The Hummingbird'sDaughter "Elizabeth Crook has invented a brilliant way of seeing the old Texas frontier: at very close range, through the eyes of a wise-beyond-his-years seventeen-year-old boy and the sister whose defiant quest he joins. The result is a small-scale masterwork, richly detailed and beautifully rendered."-- S. C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling authorof Empire of the Summer Moon "Exuberant . . . Benjamin's voice has echoes of Huckleberry Finn, while his sister's pursuit of the deadly cat recalls True Grit."-- Tom Beer, Newsday "How Crook managed to channel the voice of a seventeen-year-old boy in 1860s Texas so convincingly I can't say, but Benjamin is both persuasive and captivating, a fully realized character that you gladly follow across the Lone Star State. In his youth and lack of education and simple, declarative voice, he calls to mind another figure from nineteenth-century American literature, Huck Finn. Benjamin shares Huck's keen eye for observing human nature and teasing out some sense of what it means. His voice is another way in which Crook grips the reader, and may be the novel's secret weapon . . . Like some of the finest books that came out of our nation's first century and a quarter, The Which Way Tree leads us into the wild, where characters must confront both the wildness in nature and the wildness in their own nature. That which is in Sam's heart has the awesome force of a thunderstorm-or a mountain lion-and can no more be tamed than either of them can. But Elizabeth Crook has at least wrestled hers onto the page and lets us get close to it, close enough for the hairs on our arms to rise. In this remarkable novel, she's given us something wild to wonder at, and to be moved by."-- Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle "In The Which Way Tree, Elizabeth Crook has conjured a powerful, sly, and often charming tale delivered in the winning voice of Benjamin. This novel is a fast-paced story resonating with rich characters and mythic elements that come to us as folklore that mustn't be doubted."-- Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone and The Maid's Version "In the tradition of Charles Portis's classic True Grit, Elizabeth Crook's heart-pounding adventure, The Which Way Tree, features a tough-as-nails orphan in pursuit of frontier justice...you'll follow Sam to the ends of the earth."-- Natalie Beach, O Magazine "Not since True Grit have I read a novel this charming, exciting, suspenseful, and pitch-perfect. The Which Way Tree is winning from first page to last."-- Ron Hansen, authorof The Kid and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward RobertFord "Poignant and plainspoken...Crook crafts Benjamin's narratoin beautifully, finding a winning balance between naivete and wisdom, thoughtfulness and grit."-- Publishers Weekly "Recalls Cormac McCarthy's horseback meandering and keen eye for terrain and flora in The Crossing. There are also obvious echoes of True Grit, though Sam is even more fiercely single-minded than Mattie . . . An entertaining picture of harsh, stark life in the Old West."-- Kirkus Reviews "Samantha is frustrating and, like her brother Benjamin, sometimes I too wanted to strangle her, but I couldn't help but root for her . . . Crook's novel keeps the plot moving fast and the dramatic tension high . . . It's a story that hooked me from the get-go, and when Benjamin finishes his last letter to the judge, I wanted the story to continue . . . Fans of Paulette Jiles's News of the World will be gratified to find another well-told, old-time Texas tale of big adventure and big characters."-- Emily Spicer, San Antonio Express News "The story is intriguing . . . A page-turner."-- Mike Yawn, Houston Chronicle "This is a story of unremitting deprivation allayed by unexpected kindness, with a dangerous chase motivated by love and suffused with humanity."-- Michele Leber, Booklist "This riveting Western has a bit of True Grit feel."-- CJ Lotz, Garden & Gun "When I began to read this book its unique voice appealed to me immediately. Elizabeth Crook has written a beautiful novel with wonderful characters."-- Robert Duvall While hunting near his Texas home at the end of the Civil War, Benjamin Shreve witnesses a Confederate soldier, Clarence Hanlin, picking the pockets of eight hanged men. The 17-year-old orphan is called to court to testify about what he saw. In letters to the judge, Benjamin tells the epic tale of the panther that killed his stepmother and disfigured his stepsister, Samantha. Clarence plays a bizarre role in the tale, helping and hindering Samantha's Ahab-like quest forvengeance against the panther. Benjamin, frank and quick-witted, tells a story that is absorbing and satisfying. Hedoesn't dwell on his hardships but focuses on Samantha's single-minded pursuit of the panther and the cold-bloodedsoldier who ended up in the middle of it all. VERDICT: Spur-Award-winning Crook's (The Night Journal; Monday, Monday) fifth novel will be a must-read for fans of Joe Lansdale's Western adventures and Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. Readers new to the Western genre will be hooked if they start with this compelling novel.-- Emily Hamstra, Library Journal
Benjamin Shreve, the teenage narrator of Elizabeth Crook's new novel…unspools his tale of Civil War-era Texas in a first-person voice that is utterly convincing, consistent and believable. Crook never slips out of that voice for a moment. This is no small feat given that the tale involves Benjamin's demented half sister, the infamous massacre of Union-sympathizing German immigrants by local Confederates, and a giant panther. Any first-person voice involving a young Southern boy invites comparisons to Huck Finn. But dialects have complexities, and Crook appears to be a master of them. Benjamin's voice swings between the rhythms of the Southern hills and the lofty, elevated tone encountered in Twain and contemporary westerns…His speech can switch from hyperbole to understatement in the same sentenceand it is a wonderfully deadpan understatement…
The Which Way Tree is a commendable and very readable addition to the tale-spinning tradition and its beautiful use of language.
The New York Times Book Review - Paulette Jiles
Crook’s poignant, plainspoken fifth novel (after Monday, Monday) focuses on historical Texas, this time during the Civil War era. In a framing narrative, Benjamin Shreve recalls the signal events of his 14th year for a judge investigating crimes committed during the war. Eight-year-old Benjamin Shreve, his biracial half-sister, Samantha, and her mother, a former slave, are attacked by a wild panther near their isolated hill country home. Like Ahab—Benjamin has read Moby-Dick—Samantha cannot forget her animal nemesis, which kills her mother, disfigures her face, and is believed in the region to be demonic. When it returns six years later, she feels driven to track and kill it. With help from a Mexican man fleeing accusations of horse theft and the owner of a skilled “panther dog,” the siblings pursue the beast despite its vicious savagery, the punishing Texas landscape, and the machinations of Clarence Hanlin, a rogue Confederate soldier from nearby Camp Verde who becomes embroiled in their mission. Though Samantha’s obsession drives the story, her character never fully crystallizes, and the links to Melville’s classic can feel forced. But Crook crafts Benjamin’s narration beautifully, finding a winning balance between naiveté and wisdom, thoughtfulness and grit. (Feb.)
Samantha Shreve remains an enigmatic character throughout Crook's new novel and emerges as a heroine in her wayward, single-minded resolve to end the life of the panther that killed her mother and left Samantha, then age six, scarred. The story unfolds in a series of letters written by Samantha's half brother, Benjamin, who recounts 17 years of his life in a humorous and beguiling mixture of literary formality and colloquialisms. He is just 13 and Samantha 11 when the orphans are forced to survive alone in the remote 1860s Texas Hill Country, where Comanche raids are frequent, as the Civil War encroaches. They live in constant fear of the legendary panther that keeps returning to the scene of the killing. Determined to confront the creature head-on, Samantha commands the aid of a thorny and reluctant cast of characters. She becomes a fierce avenger meting out justice, and considerable calamity, in unexpected ways. Born to a black mother, Samantha is viewed entirely through the eyes of her white brother. It should be noted that Benjamin repeatedly describes her as lazy and racial slurs are said by others. Teachers will notice the parallels to Moby Dick and may want to encourage comparisons. (Samantha is comparable to a female Captain Ahab and Benjamin to Ishmael.) VERDICT Teens will relate to the sibling dynamic, but the initial slow pace and the nuanced, multilayered story line are best suited for advanced readers.—Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
A teen helps his younger half sister avenge the death of her mother in this Civil War-era tale of hardship and friendship.One day in 19th-century Texas, a setting Crook (Monday, Monday, 2014, etc.) has used in three of her novels, a panther is mauling 6-year-old Samantha when her mother fights it long enough to save the girl but loses her own life. The incident leaves young Sam disfigured and bent on vengeance. Six years later, she and her half brother, Ben, having also lost their father to "fever," are living miserably by themselves when the big cat returns. Their efforts to trap the beast fall short, but they find an ally in a Mexican man named Pacheco while they make a dire enemy of a Confederate soldier named Hanlin, who aims a gun at Sam in their first confrontation and loses a finger when she gets off a lucky shot. Also lucky is Hanlin's knowledge of a dog in the vicinity that specializes in panther tracking and is owned by his uncle, Preacher Dob. After much palaver, Hanlin departs, for a time, while Dob and his old dog join the quest. The trek that follows recalls Cormac McCarthy's horseback meandering and keen eye for terrain and flora in The Crossing. There are also obvious echoes of True Grit, though Sam is even more fiercely single-minded than Mattie. Most unavoidable is the 90-ton whale in the room. Ben, the engaging narrator who delivers the story in the form of dispatches written for a judge weighing evidence against Hanlin, mentions early on that he has twice read Moby-Dick. He refers to it many more times for any reader who doesn't make a connection with Sam's obsessive drive to destroy an almost-mythic beast that scarred her face and is known to some as El Demonio.An entertaining picture of harsh, stark life in the Old West that maybe stretches plausibility a bit in pursuit of a good yarn.