How to Grow a Family Tree by Eliza Henry Jones
As with P is for Pearl, Eliza Henry-Jones’s latest young adult novel How to Grow a Family Tree tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl and the emotional struggles brought on by a family in crisis. In her trademark style, Henry-Jones draws on her background in psychology in creating an authentic experience for Stella, the protagonist of this work. This is an emotionally complex story with a myriad of pressure points at play.
Stella’s family are struggling to come to terms with their changed financial circumstances brought on by the father’s gambling addiction. Being forced to move out of the family home to the local caravan park is a point of shame and much social angst for Stella and her sister Taylor. For too long, the sisters have had to reconcile themselves to the family’s diminishing assets as their father sold off anything of value to finance his gambling addiction. The family home was the last thing to go. But this isn’t Stella’s only concern. A surprise letter from her biological mother seeking connection is in itself destabilising and, even though Stella knew her own adoption story, this couldn’t have come at a more confusing time.
The complexity of one’s relationship to home and family are of central concern in this emotionally challenging work. But Stella proves a stoic and resilient teenager, if not an endearing one given her predilection for self-help books and the pop-psychological support they offer her. As when, justifying her point that she’s not as angry as her sister, she makes amusing use of a newly learnt psychological concept, remarking: ‘I suppose I’m a lot more actualised than Taylor’. This is a sensitive story about the things that break people and the strength and resources they draw upon to start over.