By Author / Illustrator
Joseph Coelho, Kate Milner
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
Paperback / softback
Daphne is unbearably sad and adrift. She feels the painful loss of her father acutely and seeks solace both in the security of her local library and the escape her phone screen provides by blocking out the world around her. As Daphne tries to make sense of what has happened, she recalls memories of shared times and stories past, and in facing the darkness she finds a way back from the tangle of fear and confusion, to feel connected once more with her friends and family.
The Girl Who Became a Tree sees Joseph Coelho deploy a wide variety of poetic forms with consummate skill in its narration of events. He seamlessly but searingly weaves together the ancient legend of Daphne, who was turned into a tree to avoid the attentions of the god Apollo, and a totally modern tale, mixing real-life and fantasy, in which a latter-day Daphne seeks her own freedom. This is a heart-stoppingly imaginative story told in poems, at times bleak and even tragic, which is layered, rich and ultimately a tour de force of poetic skill and energy.
The Girl Who Became a Tree: A Story Told in Poems is tragically beautiful and a story that will stay with you for a long time to come. Told completely through a range of poetic devices, this story stands out as original and moving as it interweaves the story of the main character, Daphne, with an ancient legend.
Daphne is broken. Sad and alone, she is suffering the grief and loss of the death of her father, a tree surgeon (this is important for understanding the narrative). Daphne pushes everyone away, but finds safety and solace in her local library and her phone to block out everything in her now broken world. But Daphne loses her phone in the library and she begins a journey into her memories and times with her father. The clever narrative sees Daphne in a forest where her story becomes interwoven with the ancient legend of Daphne who was turned into a tree to avoid the attention of the God Apollo.
Our modern Daphne herself finds herself wanting to be turned into a tree to connect to her father and to find release from the dark despair and heartbreak of her grief. But going through her memories of her family, Daphne realises she must return to the world and eventually comes back from her darkness and into the waiting loving arms of her mother.
Coelho uses a variety of poetic techniques to share Daphne's experiences whilst still maintaining the narrative. The narrative is a mixture of fantasy and real-life, which makes this simultaneously heartbreaking and wonderful to read. Daphne reaches out to the reader with Coelho's hidden messages with letters in bold, spelling out Daphne's silent cry for help.
Reading this was so moving, I cried for an hour. If you have every suffered a loss or grief of any kind, you will connect with Daphne. Daphne is real; she is the lost student in the classroom; she is the girl silently isolating herself whilst silently screaming for help. Her grief feels real and her experience is painful. I felt Daphne's pain and I felt her move forward to acceptance and love. I loved her and wanted to reach out and hold her whilst she cried.
Coelho should be hugely congratulated for creating something so powerfully moving, yet bringing the forefront an issue that needs to be talked about - mental health, grief and teenage depression. This story will undoubtedly support young people who are grieving and I hope will lead them to reach out and get the help they need. I cannot recommend this book enough.
176 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Joanna Hewish, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 11+