05/18/2011 05:49 pm ET | Updated Jul 18, 2011

The Beach Trees Examines Rebuilding the Mississippi Coastal Towns

Karen White's latest novel is The Beach Trees, a story about love and death in the South. There are several mysterious deaths and disappearances in the story, but the true enjoyment of the book comes from its clearly defined characters and the relationships they have with one another. The mysteries are relegated to second place.

Also in the forefront is the locale of the story. Most of it takes place in either New Orleans or Biloxi, two places which have taken a licking from Mother Nature, but slowly have resurrected themselves. White's description of the damages done to these two cities is impressive and heartwrenching. We see a return to life in progress, but also one that was trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina and was socked with the oil spill.

To these places comes Julie Holt. She is a young woman who was living in New York when she met Monica, a runaway of sorts from the South. Monica was a single mother with a heart condition. Eventually, it killed her, and she left Julie to be the guardian of her son, Beau, and also of her share in a house in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Julie heads South and meets with Monica's grandmother, Aimee, who lives in New Orleans. The older woman welcomes the younger one with open arms. She also tells Julie some of the secrets of Monica's life. Aimee's mother was murdered, and the killer was never found. Monica's grandmother disappeared on the night of this killing. She was never found, and there were rumors on top of rumors about what happened to her.

Eventually, Monica's obsession with her missing grandmother caused her to turn her back on her family and flee to New York. She never contacted them again. Now, Aimee hopes that by sharing stories with Julie they can learn what caused Monica to turn on her family.

This is certainly enough plot to fill any book, but in The Beach Trees it is not what dominates the reader's attention. They want to know more about Julie and her obsession with her missing sister. They also want to know more about her relationship with Beau and her blossoming romance with Trey, Monica's brother.

White is expert in weaving these stories in and out of the present and the past. In the past, the story is told in Aimee's voice, but in the present it is in Julie's. That is a little tricky to pull off, but White does it with ease.

She also describes the land and location of the story in marvelous detail. You can see the destroyed landscape through Julie's eyes and you can withstand a hurricane with Aimee in the past. This is what makes the book come to life, and it is what makes White one of the best new writers on the scene today.

If you have an affinity for New Orleans and the Louisiana/Mississippi coast, then you will want to read The Beach Trees. It will take you there, and keep you there for the length of the story.

The Beach Trees is published by NAL. It contains 432 pages and sells for $15.00.

Jackie K Cooper,