Buttons, Books, and a Baby: South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber

Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Macmillan Publishing Group

‘It was the kind of day in Buttonwood, Alabama, where trouble slipped into town with the breeze, jarring awake sleepy springtime leaves on the massive oaks and sky-high hickories. It scraped parched dirt, sending dust skittering along the trail like it was running for cover. It whistled its warning, plain as day to anyone who cared to listen.’ 

And trouble did find Blue Bishop in the form of a baby discovered underneath the magical buttonwood tree. It is a name given to the American sycamore tree because its fine wood was often used for making buttons. Webber weaves an entire lore around the tree growing in the town of Buttonwood, which functions like a driving force behind the parallel narratives following Blue Bishop and Sarah Grace Landreneau Fulton on their path to discovering their true selves and trying to fulfil their dreams. 

‘He’d sat me down and told me how the South was full of magic and how it touched some more than others.’ 

Magical realism functions on several levels in this novel. On the one hand, there is the folklore surrounding the buttonwood tree which pushes and propels the action forward. On the other hand, there is the more spiritual and mystical moon magic that functions as a healing force that allows some of the characters second chances and opportunities to heal and better themselves. 

‘“Did I ever tell you about the time Cobb Bishop swindled my daddy out of a hundred dollars, twenty acres of land, two sides of beef, and his favorite pipe?”’

An air of notoriety surrounds the Bishops. There used to be five Bishop children. Three boys and two girls: Mac, Wade, Ty, Blue, and Persimmon. The boys died under controversial circumstances, either in bar fights or during a failed bank robbery. The father, having had a criminal history himself, thought his only way out was to leave. The mother retreated into herself to lick her wounds, leaving Blue and Persy to fend for themselves. 

Much higher up the Buttonwood social ladder, Sarah Grace spent her life trying to ‘Do better. Be better’ as her validation-seeking mother always urged. This path had landed her into an unhappy marriage and pushed her to a crossroads where a lot depended on her choice, not only for herself but for her entire tightly wound family. 

The arrival of the mysterious baby discovered by Blue underneath the buttonwood tree triggers an avalanche of events that untis the knotted family drama that lies in the heart of Webber’s novel. It is an intriguing and exciting story that will pull you in and drag you down its winding magical pathways. 

© 2020 Erna Grcic 

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