The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab, paperback novel, 246 pages, published by Scholastic Press in 2014.
Pine River is a small town with a tight-knit community. For the past twenty-five years, the town has had an amazing Christmas tradition, the Angel Tree. Each December the tree arrives in the town square in the dead of night. People tie their most heartfelt wishes to the branches of the Angel Tree and other townsfolk and the big boss angel make those wishes come true. No one knows who erects the tree and co-ordinates the wishes every year, it has always been a mystery.
Four kids who each need something granted from the Angel Tree come together to uncover the secret and thank the person that has been bringing dreams to life in Pine River for so long. Max, whose house burnt down recently, Lucy, whose guide dog needs life saving medical treatment, Joe, who is lonely and isolated and missing his mum, and Cami, who loves her violin, but wants to make her grandmother proud even if it means not being herself. Together they unravel the mystery of the Angel Tree, and learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way.
The Angel Tree is a heart-warming holiday read suitable for primary school children and up. The mystery of the Angel Tree is interesting, and I liked following Max, Joe, Cami and Lucy along on their detective mission (or spy mission, as Max thought it should be). I tried to work out the clues along the way too. The story was well written, and the ending was not given away too soon.
I quite liked the characters, they seemed very real, with real worries and doubts, flaws and capabilities. Joe was written as the most hated student at school, and he read like he deserved this title at the start of the book, while Max was the class clown. As the story progressed, the reader learnt more about Max and Joe, gaining an understanding of their true selves, and the reasons that allowed these boys to be pigeon-holed into these roles. It felt so real. Cami and Lucy were similarly pigeon-holed as the musical and blind girls, for obvious reasons, but they are so much more than that. They both overcome their fears and doubts to track down the great benefactor of Pine River. They are strong and special girls, capable of so much. The four kids were the focus of the story, but the adult characters were also well-written, and easily pictured.
It was very nice to read a Christmas story that was about real giving and generosity. This story is a reminder to us all that Christmas in not just about marketable wares and consumer spending, but about people. People helping one another, coming together as friends and family, kindness and generosity of spirit.
The Angel Tree was a very enjoyable read, helping me to get on my holiday cheer!