Donve LeeNew review of The Eagle Tree from South African writer Donvé Lee.

When this tender complex story found me, I was steeped in pandemic misery, lamenting the suicidal trajectory humanity seems intent on following. The Eagle Tree, told in the voice of a fourteen-year-old autistic boy, restored my faith in the world.

Peter March Wong loves trees. He is in love with them. He wants to be a tree. He lives in the richly forested Pacific North West, and his head is filled with a massive archive of facts about trees – their names, growth patterns, sizes, shapes, textures and so much more. He climbs on average 5.6 trees a day. Trees calm him down. They make him feel safe. Despite the fact that he sometimes falls and lands up in hospital and the state wants to take him away from his mother if she can’t prevent him from getting hurt. His passion for trees is so great that he is prepared to risk his life to save the giant Eagle Tree, an ancient Ponderosa Pine that is about to be cut down by developers. What fascinated me most about this book was the way author Ned Hayes managed to invoke the reader’s empathy for this unlikely hero. I was moved to tears at times. How do you express emotion when writing in the voice of someone whose unique way of seeing the world prevents him from expressing, processing or even describing emotion? As it turns out, with enormous skill. With gorgeous sensuous descriptions. With the occasional dialogue between concerned family members and teachers. With equal amounts of simplicity and depth.

This book taught me so much about trees, too much really, and reminded me of the interconnectedness of all things – people, nature, family, community. But what I valued most was the insight I gained into the mind of someone who sees things from a totally different perspective to mine, who processes the world through facts not feelings yet remains deeply, exquisitely human. By the end of the book, I was totally in love with this brave young man, humbled and inspired by his unyielding determination to make a difference despite enormous odds. I was also struck by the fact that his particular ‘disabilities’ were in the end his strengths, not his liabilities. Lastly, I was reminded that stories have the power to change the world.

Perhaps the planet will survive after all.