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.
...[a] taut, richly imagined debut ... The story tackles many issues, including divorce, parental death, grief and child molestation, as well as class and immigration issues, making this nostalgic 1980s story surprisingly topical ... A Crooked Tree marks the welcome debut of a talented, captivating new voice.
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.
... spellbinding and suspenseful ... suspenseful but is propelled much more by emotion than murder or sabotage, with Libby’s coming-of-age driving the bulk of the novel’s plot. With Libby and her siblings learning about the grittiness of the world and still fighting for their place within it, helping one another through and over and under, the book takes on a propulsive pace, even when the action is all emotional and internal. Mannion is a fantastic writer and infuses every scene with wisdom and tenderness, all while fleshing out the tremendous atmosphere of the children’s mountain home and Libby’s Kingdom. This gripping study of anger, resentment and dysfunction is both tightly plotted and full of possibility ... announces the arrival of a brilliant new talent, an author as adept at creating compelling characters as she is at putting them through the wringer. This poignant, entrancing novel will stay with you for a very long time.
With its adolescent characters who apply teenage logic to adult problem-solving, Mannion’s coming-of-age debut verges on being a YA novel. Probing, empathic and intense, the action capably mines the numerous uncertainties teens face when coping with situations that test their independence.
... carefully-crafted ... The mother’s complicated infidelity is the first of many interesting twists in a narrative full of quiet surprises and revelations ... If this makes Mannion’s novel sound hackneyed, it is anything but. The classic coming-of-age tale gets new life from the original setting, the nostalgic 1980s atmosphere, and the clash of Irish and American cultures as witnessed and related by the intuitive narrator Libby ... would make a fine addition to a school curriculum. It is a book full of knowledge ... The mysteries are engaging; the lessons are dexterously laid down; the sense of discovery, for both reader and character, is palpable ... rich in imagery ... Occasionally the book falters, as with climactic scenes that see Libby ask too many leading questions, or with her musings on bad-boy neighbour Wilson, which feel slightly overdone. But these are minor points in a book that is brimming with curiosity and wonder. Mannion imparts Libby’s development in a series of subtle, suspenseful scenes that will leave the reader wanting more. An evocative and convincing coming-of-age story that is centred on the most important tree of all, the tree of life.
...[an] atmospheric if overstuffed debut ... amid nostalgic memories of their father and a series of unremarkable high school coming-of-age scenes, moments of the girls' discomfort and scenes of sexual abuse give the book a prevailing sense of foreboding around other adult men. The novel builds suspense with additional sightings of Barbie Man, but it culminates in an implausible denouement with too many questions left unanswered. Mannion writes skillfully but fails to unify a hodgepodge plot.