Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Last Apple Tree

Mills, Claudia. The Last Apple Tree
June 4, 2024 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sonnet and her mother and younger sister Villie have moved from Colorado back to her mother' hometown of Wakefield, Indiana, after the death of Sonnet's grandmother. Her father left before Villie, who is about five, was born, and her mother has quit her job in insurance, cleaning houses and dedicating herself to writing poetry instead. Gramps is 80, and his health is failing. The grandmother's illness forced him to sell off some of the apple orchards that had been in the family for years, and there is a new housing development that has been built on the property. There is only one apple tree remaining. Sonnet is not terribly happy having to go to 7th grade in a new school, and after meeting neighbor Zeke when her grandfather's cat Moo-Moo gets out of the house, is not impressed with him. Zeke, who spend most of his life being home schooled by his highly opinionated journalist father, is having a hard time fitting in at school. His lack of video games and phone, along with his family's environmentally friendly lifestyle, makes him a little different, and even the one boy he has befriended, Carson, makes fun of him. When their teacher assigns an oral history project, Zeke tells the teacher that he will interview his neighbor, who is of course Sonnet's Gramps. She is angry about this, and insists that they must work together. Gramps is having memory issues, frequently thinking that Sonnet's mother is his wife, Lenore, and is often sad. During one of the interviews, information comes out about a long held family secret. Sonnet investigates, and finds out it is true. This complicates her relationship with Zeke, her mother, and her grandfather. How will she be able to use this information to heal her family and make the most of her grandfather's sunset days?
Strengths: Wakefield is a town like many of us have seen; here in Ohio, there is an Intel chip plant being built in Johnstown, and I'm sure stories similar to Gramps' will happen again and again. Change is hard, and Sonnet is trying her best to regulate the change that occurs. She and Zeke do manage to get along, but are both rather prickly and react against each other accordingly. I really enjoyed Zeke's contentious relationship with his father; there should be more of this in middle grade literature. Not all children are in sync with their parents, and given Zeke's father's strong opinions and social activism, it is not a surprise that he is a bit embarassed by him. The grandfather misses his wife, and the way that the family tragedy was treated makes sense given the time frame. I always enjoy Mills' work, and the cover of this is absolutely beautiful.
Weaknesses: This is more of a character driven story rather than a plot driven one, which won't appeal to readers who want things to explode. Not a problem, just something to keep in mind when recommending the book to readers.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want a contemplative title involving a changing landscape, like Perkins' Hope in the Valley, or one dealing with a grandparent who is struggling with the effects of aging and how this affects family dynamics, like Campbell's Rule of Threes or Turley's The Last Tree Town.


  1. I love contemplative books. And I love well-developed character-driven stories. There is a lot going on in this story and I enjoyed hearing about Zecke's father -- unique guy -- and Sonnet's aging grampa. I understand the issues of dealing with a family member who has memory loss as I'm dealing with it now. That's why you haven't seen me around much this past year. So I can imagine how protective Sonnet (love her name) is with her grandfather. Great share!

  2. Ms. Yingling6:53 AM EDT

    The number one complaint my students have is when "nothing happens" in a book. Contemplative doesn't do as well with 12 year olds as it does with teachers and librarians. I'm sorry you're dealing with a relative with memory loss; it's all too common, and never easy to navigate. Sending good thoughts your way.