There’s something great about going into a book with no plot details and seeing where it takes you. The publicist reached out to me about this one, comparing it to My Oxford Year and Head Over Heels, both books that I absolutely loved, so I agreed to read it without even reading the synopsis. The Treehouse on Dog River Road is the debut novel for Catherine Drake—and it comes out tomorrow (May 10)—and though I know it’s sometimes risky to try out a new author (especially one I haven’t heard much about), the charming title swayed me. And I was excited to go into it not knowing a thing about it.
Twenty-eight-year-old Hannah Spencer wants nothing more than to change everything about her life. After ten years of living in cities, Nathan Wild has just moved back home to Vermont and doesn’t want to change anything about his.
Recently laid off from her depressing job in Boston and ready for a challenge, Hannah heads to Vermont for the summer to take care of her sister’s kids and do some serious soul searching. There, against the stunning landscape of the Green Mountains, she embarks on an ambitious project: building a treehouse for her niece and nephew. As she hammers away, she formulates a plan to jump-start her life with a new job out West. But will Nathan-next-door complicate her desire to change course? A witty, romantic, and inspiring story of a young woman taking control and making tough choices about love and work to build the life she wants, The Treehouse on Dog River Road will have you rooting for Hannah every step of the way.
Going into a book completely blind—without even really knowing (or remembering) the synopsis—is something I really must do more often. It means I have no idea where the story is even supposed to start and that I’m just letting the story take me where I want it to go. That being said, The Treehouse on Dog River Road was being compared to My Oxford Year, one of my favourite books of the past couple of years, so I was definitely expecting a tragedy of some kind, and though there is a big event that is devastating to some, it didn’t really affect the main characters too much in the long run, so I didn’t feel that emotional devastation like I did in Julia Whelan’s story.
I enjoyed some of the characters in the story, especially the kids, and I appreciated that Hannah really wanted to discover what the next step was for herself without being influenced too much by the guy she was seeing, but I do think she was trying to think of her life a little too objectively. When people make big life decisions, they do considering things like how close they are to their family and what kind of support system they have around them, so for her to be so blunt to the ones around her about not influencing her decision was out of character (and a bit hurtful) of her to say—especially when you think that she was spending the summer with her niece and nephew who had come to rely on her in a way that aunts don’t usually have the opportunity to be relied upon. She was trying to be so practical that it took away from her sincerity a bit.
I loved Nathan’s family—they were a riot and I wish we had more about them in the story. I was hoping Drake was going to give us an epilogue to see how things progressed after Hannah made her decision, mostly so we could see where the Wilds ended up, too.
There were a couple of things I couldn’t get past, though, namely that Hannah’s sister and her husband would take a sabbatical over a summer and leave their young kids (they’re only six and four) in the care of their inexperienced sister for that long. She had never done more than babysit and though their neighbour did do a lot to help her out, their parents were hours away, so Hannah didn’t really have anyone she could rely on in case something went wrong. And I don’t care how much you love your nieces and nephews, going from being a single girl living her life in the big city to a full-time caregiver to two young kids is a big, exhausting job that wouldn’t be as fun as the book made it out to be, and she certainly wouldn’t have had all this free time she supposedly had. This brings me to the part of the book that dragged on for me—the building of the treehouse. There were way too many details about the ins and outs of building the treehouse, down to the kinds of materials she needed and the steps she was taking to build it in the beginning, and then all of a sudden it was done and we barely spent much time with it after that. It was a bit of a strange way to anchor the whole story—I would have rather spent more time with Nathan’s family instead. And then the big event at the end, which was inspired by real-life and was devastating to those involved, was very low stakes for the main characters, so I’m a little confused as to why it was part of this particular story.
There were some very satisfying parts of this book and some very confusing parts of this book, so I had a really hard time figuring out what I thought of it, so maybe you can take a read and help me figure out what I thought. Just don’t go in thinking it’ll be like My Oxford Year because it’s really not like it at all.
“The bottom line is I want to be a ‘leaver’ and not a ‘taker.’ That’s what I’m searching for, and that’s tough to do and still make a living.” —Catherine Drake, The Treehouse on Dog River Road
Thank you to NetGalley and Sparkpoint Studio and She Writes Press for the advanced copy, and to Floris Bronkhorst on Unsplash for the featured photo.