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  • The Franklin Trees
    The Franklin Trees
    by Jonathan Nauman

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    The Franklin Trees
    by Jonathan Nauman

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Responses and Reviews for The Franklin Trees

 

"A tale of three sixth-grade boys quickly accelerates into a gripping page-turner."

With his debut novel, The Franklin Trees, Jonathan Nauman earns a place among the ranks of first-class storytellers.  A tale of three sixth-grade boys quickly accelerates into a gripping page-turner that will captivate readers young and old.  If you're a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia, you may find much of the same appeal here; Nauman has a Lewis-like gift for combining sharply drawn characters, mystery and suspense, movement between different realities, and quiet affirmation of virtues such as bravery, love, loyalty, and faith. As the story unfolded and took unexpected turns, I found myself thinking, "This would make a wonderful movie."  Bravo! 

Tom Lickona, author of Character Matters; professor of education and director, Center for the 4th and 5th Rs, State University of New York at Cortland

http://www2.cortland.edu/centers/character/staff.dot

 

"A breathtaking treasure for young and old alike."

Like its namesake plant, Jonathan Nauman's young adult novel, The Franklin Trees, is a breathtaking treasure for young and old alike. Jim Canby and Alan Prince, two bright sixth-graders growing up in a charming New York State village, start the school year with the usual social and academic concerns before their new friend Eric Jewett transports them to the magical--and often frightening--world of Bailiwyck mansion. The boys' unfolding adventures with enchanted flowers, trapped ghosts, Halloween balls and strange disappearances lead them to consider the greatest mystery of all--the human mind.

Young readers will find their imaginations stirred by Nauman's rich literary and historical references, passionate characters, and lush imagery of the north Catskills landscape. The novel's biggest attraction, however, is its ability to relate to children's very real challenges with family, sports, teachers and friends in the midst of so many fantastical twists and turns. Most notably, The Franklin Trees moves beyond even the multiple dimensions of time and consciousness to explore the mysterious depths of compassion, forgiveness, and coming of age.

Tania Runyan, author of Delicious Air, CCL Book of the Year (2007)

http://taniarunyan.com
http://taniarunyan.wordpress.com

 

"Beyond the scrim of ordinariness"

 T. S. Eliot speaks of the “fear in a handful of dust,” the idea being that if we could see the thunderous worlds of subatomic activity even in such an unlikely heap as a handful of dust, we would be stricken.

    The same thing is at work in the great paintings. The artist—let us say Vermeer—fixes upon a kitchen, with nothing at all going on in it. A maid stands there with a ceramic milk pitcher. Nothing of interest here . . . or rather, everything. The painter sees luminescence and sublimity in this vignette that the rest of us would have missed. 

    Orthodox and Catholic Christians encounter the same thing day by day in the liturgy. We find a man, bread, wine, and a pre-set script, but the eye of faith sees here that the scrim between the temporal and the eternal has become very thin. Cherubim and seraphim are, in fact and not in fantasy, in attendance.

    Literature, most notably children’s literature, often bespeaks this oddity, namely that Ultimacy—or Glory perhaps—lurks very nearby. In one story we may be whirled off by a cyclone to Oz; in another, Peter Pan is the avatar. (I myself think that those two examples trivialize things and fall into frivolity and bathos.) In another tale we find that a wardrobe full of fur coats backs up onto Aslan’s Country, and in another we are summoned to The Third Age of Middle Earth. In the novels of Charles Williams, we find Heaven and Hell under every bush, in the form of the Holy Grail or a cube of the primordial matter of the Creation inscribed with the Tetragrammaton, or the Platonic archetypes.

    It is worth noting that in such tales, where the treatment is serious, what goes on beyond the scrim of ordinariness is clearly of the same fabric as the quotidian conditions in our familiar world. Serious fantasy never depends on sheer extravagance or effect. A certain reticence, even humility, seems to govern things in the worthy examples of fantasy, as though one stood in the presence of great glories, and could not play hob with things.

    The book in question here, Jonathan Nauman’s The Franklin Trees, exhibits that reticence. On the surface of things, we find ourselves, as it were, in the world of the Hardy Boys: plain, decent, believable schoolboys going about their business in upstate New York. The business, however, entails a small prank—just a forgivable trick played on their teacher. But the prank opens the gate onto that domain where our commonplace actions and motivations and relationships appear illumined by the radiance of Truth itself. In the commonplaces of ordinary life we are most often “protected from heaven and damnation” (Eliot again) by the pall of the ordinary. But when the light of Truth breaks through to us, we find that hell and heaven, or, shall we say vanity, malice, grudge, parsimony and pusillanimity on the one hand, or courage, candor, nobility, generosity, and Caritas on the other, lie under every bush. And what did we ever suppose were the wellsprings of our ordinary encounters with each other anyway?

        Our hero is a boy called Jim Canby. His friend Alan Prince accompanies Jim up to a certain stage in the action. A thoroughly believable—and interesting—story unfolds. But presently we (and Jim) wonder just what footing things are proceeding on. Almost imperceptibly, strangeness filters onto the stage. Reality—commonplace, tangible “reality” that is—seems to be being called in question. For one thing, there are the Franklin trees. Their delicate blossoms seem to exude something more than their fragrance. Is it light? Do they have the power to unveil the past perhaps? The boys react as normal boys would. Doubt, curiosity, hesitation, fear, wonder—how does one react to these blossoms?

    And then there is the question of dreams. Jim’s dreams seem to bear a somewhat questionable relation to light of day circumstances. And not only that: one wonders whether they are perhaps piercing the scrim that keeps the commonplace safely commonplace. It is all handled with great skill by the author. There are never effects for effects’ sake.

    There is an old estate, complete with gardens, gates, walls, and an old house with tall staircases and echoing rooms and a dark attic. And an old woman. Who is she? What is her story? Where are we? In the present or in the past? Or both?

    But a review must stop on the hither side of giving things away.

    To my mind, this tale does indeed take its place among the works mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this review. The “machinery” of the action is controlled with the tact that marks worthwhile stories off from mere sensationalism. Before we are through, we have been hailed with “the Permanent Things.” There is sin (there is no other name for it, finally) in its civilized guises of bitterness and vengefulness and vanity and jealousy. And there are the saving graces of courage and decency and purity of heart and forgiveness.

    The Lady Julian tells us that “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” That would be an intolerable bromide if it weren’t bought at the price of great sacrifice. Jonathan Nauman’s story leads us into the precincts where these immensities touch believably on the life of a young upstate New York schoolboy.

--Thomas T. Howard, author of Chance or the Dance, C. S. Lewis: Man of Letters, Dove Descending: A Journey Into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

 

"Like observing a carpenter using a beautiful wood"

       The Franklin Trees. I read it once. I am now reading it again and I am even more convinced of the carefulness of the fiction of Jonathan Nauman. And I, as well, am reading it with great carefulness, noticing the well-crafted writing. It is like observing a carpenter using a beautiful wood, the joints joined in beautiful precision. They are just right. They are true.

            Yes, the writing is crafted well, but so also the characters, who come irresistibly to life. Jim, Alan, Eric Jewett, Sarah Hunter Kirkpatrick, Dr. C. Williams Michael—each has a depth and a richness that requires rereading. You want to learn more about them because you like them.

            There are books you read once and you turn them over to a thrift shop; there are books you read again and put back on the shelf; then there are books you keep as friends. The Franklin Trees is one of these friends. 

William Stevenson

William Stevenson lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He graduated with a degree in forestry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and worked as a forest ranger in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. He has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, taught Latin, and is now working on a novel. His poetry has appeared in the Lenten Journey and other journals.