While Una Mannion’s debut ably fulfils the promise of its suspenseful start, providing carefully orchestrated lawlessness, bare-fisted violence and a long-haired predator sinisterly named 'Barbie Man,' this is no crime novel ... Some of her epiphanies give off a distinctly YA vibe and nods to forces shaping the wider world – strip mining, hunger strikes in Northern Ireland, America’s blinkered exceptionalism – can feel like an overreaching distraction. Where Mannion excels is in evoking a time and a place that’s slipping away even as she pins it to the page with such perceptive, lyrical economy ... Yoking a classic coming-of-age narrative to the pacier engine of a thriller takes skill and A Crooked Tree is more than persuasive, emanating nostalgia, foreboding and clear-eyed empathy.
A Crooked Tree is a sonorous ode to youth with all its innocence, angst, disillusionment, and unfiltered honesty. Author Una Mannion tells a coming-of-age story in its full expression ... with Mannion’s deft handling, we experience the family as normal; we accept as plausible the frame of reference in this heart-tugging cause and effect story ... A Crooked Tree is a wise, deep-probing exploration of the complexities of youth as seen from a shaky family dynamic they defend because it’s all they know. Coming-of-age concerns such as loyalty, trust, loss, self-esteem, and a place to call home are sensitively depicted in a rural, Pennsylvania setting so poetically drawn you feel it viscerally.
While this uneasy intro has serious consequences and drives thriller-like plot points, Mannion is not concerned only with what happens to Ellen. The main story, and what makes this debut so engaging, is the affecting portrait of adolescent uncertainty confronting the novel's narrator ... A Crooked Tree is particularly welcome at the end of an exhausting year when so many of us have become inextricably linked to technology. It takes place in 1981, when computer screens and cable TV were in their infancy, and kids roamed outside all summer long, from dawn till long past dusk. It's a coming-of-age tale with the heart of a serious thriller and some YA/after-school-special lessons tossed in. Put simply, it's a good story told by a smooth, genuine writer. In a time when so many of us would like nothing more than a bit of escape, those qualities are incredibly appealing.