Up High in the Trees by Kiara Brinkman

A small boy deals with the death of his mother by setting his imagination free.

Up High in the Trees is a beautifully written book about a most engaging child, but it failed to move me. I’m not really sure why. Sebby, his brother Leo, his sister Cass, and his father are all dealing with a grievous loss, each choosing to isolate themselves in a different way. The overall story shows a family splitting apart then coming back together because of the choices that Sebby makes.

Sebby is a remarkable narrator. Kiara Brinkman completely pulls off his third-grade voice and perceptions without compromising her creation of well-rounded secondary characters and a deliberately plotted story. The book never feels like a stunt, and for all the beautiful language she puts in Sebby’s mouth she never forgets that she’s telling a story. These aren’t words for words’ sake, as gorgeous as those words are.

The most poignant passages in the book are the letters that Sebby writes to his teacher after being pulled out of school. It was in reading these letters that I fell in love with Sebby’s heart, the way his teacher would from receiving these letters. They are lovely but not precious, childlike but not cutesy; again, no mean feat pulled off by Brinkman. Of all the characters in the book I felt like Brinkman most wanted us to stand in the shoes of Sebby’s teacher, to pull for him to make it through the long, lonely passage of grief.

Apart from these sections, I was oddly unmoved by the story. I’m not going to be a pooper and say that it’s overthought–though I’m sure Brinkman had to fight to overcome the writing-school nature of the prose. Nor can I complain that I was too dazzled by Brinkman’s technical achievement to engage, because I do feel that she pulled it off. I think the problem is me. I think I went into this wanting Brinkman to fail, and for that reason I held my heart back from falling for Sebby the way I should have. Why? Let’s just call it jealousy, and now you know that Superfast Reader has it in her to be petty.

4 thoughts on “Up High in the Trees by Kiara Brinkman”

  1. Characters are what matters most to me, so I’m excited that you found Sebby so appealing. I can’t wait to love him myself.

    It’s interesting what you say about the letters Sebby writes. If I remember correctly, it’s one of the things the Book Review article criticized as being unrealistic.

    Wait, here, I found it.

    “Before that happens, Sebastian passes his time at the beach house writing utterly implausible letters to his schoolteacher, Ms. Lambert. Here Brinkman makes her only beginner’s mistake, allowing Sebastian to compose these missives with all the fluency she has herself. Curiously, the notes he used to leave for his mother before her death don’t have this problem but instead are, touchingly, the sort of thing a child like Sebastian might actually write.”

    I’m glad you see the letters differently, and I hope I do, too.

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