The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes

3.25 out of 5.00 Stars

I’m going to try my very hardest to proceed without making myself seem like a total asshole.

This book required a double decimal rating. I couldn’t force myself to give it a full 3.5 stars, mostly because I’m a petty snob. I wanted to like it more than I did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening, and when I’ve decided I don’t quite care for a book, I can’t pretend otherwise. It’s a character flaw.

This short little book is many things. Parts of it are very technical and scientific, something I’m normally pretty comfortable with. I’ve worked in laboratories my entire adult life, science is basically modern day magic as far as I’m concerned, and Moby Dick is still one of my favorite books (anyone who’s read it will tell you that most of it isn’t a story at all. It’s basically a whaling textbook. Love it.) It’s written from the perspective of a boy who is severely autistic. I also normally really enjoy first person points of view in books, particularly when that point of view is so drastically different than my own. The fact that March, the main character, was so different than me had nothing to do with my reasons for disliking this book. I understood where he was coming from in most instances, and could even relate to him more than I expected to. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I didn’t care for in this book –ultimately I think it was a combination of two things that are also sort of the same thing…

  1. The book, as previously stated, was written from March’s point of view. He’s a very literal, technical, and straightforward kid. The author seems to want to drive this point home at every opportunity, in an attempt to give the reader the full experience of the autistic mind. He reiterates this position by having March misunderstand any use of metaphor or prose by other characters. What irritated me was that the author himself, speaking for March, would use flowery comparisons or poetic observations sporadically throughout the novel. I love beautiful language as much as the next person, but in this context, it almost made March seem like a hypocrite, and even made him come off as arrogant in certain situations. It also made me a little more impatient or annoyed when he wouldn’t understand the same type of language from those around him.

Additionally, March oscillates between wanting to avoid any and all physical contact, and harping on how much he loves having his shoulders pet. I get it, it’s soothing for him, but it contradicts his previous opinions on the matter. I understand that no human being is consistently in the mood or not in the mood for physical contact, but in a book of such short length, where we’re given only a 250 page summary of a person, observations like that, left unexplained, just confuse the character and again create an aura of hypocrisy.

  1. In the same vein, the author, at least in my opinion, created very little, if any, sympathy for March. Most of the time I found myself WANTING to feel bad for him, but just getting irritated. He dedicated so much time to facts about trees (some of which were repeated throughout the book) in an attempt to show that particular side of autism that March comes across as a one-dimensional cliché of a character. As a result, I wasn’t really rooting for him at all.

In addition to all of this, I couldn’t help but compare this book to The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time by Mark Haddon. Don’t judge me –it’s human nature to compare. Seriously. The Curious Incident was a FANTASTIC book, also centered around the point of view of a pre-teen boy with severe autism. In my opinion, it accomplished everything that The Eagle Tree attempted and failed to do (I SAID IT.) It helped the reader enter into the head of someone who sees the world in a different way than most people, and it did so in a sympathetic, optimistic way that didn’t overshadow the difficulties that those responsible for caring for that person go through. You felt for every person involved in the story, and you could relate to each of their struggles.

Final Analysis?

Overall, this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but it was far from one of the best.

Do I regret reading this book? Eh, not really.

Am I glad it read it? Eh, not really.

Would I recommend it? If someone asked me, “Should I read The Eagle Tree?” I’d have to ask them if their primary purpose in reading this book was for a crash course in photosynthesis and tree-based ecosystems. If the answer was no, I’d refer them to The Curious Incident instead. Sorry, Ned Hayes.




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