Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Every once in awhile, I need a book that makes me slow down and savor every word. A book that makes me connect with the characters on a cellular level. A book that evokes powerful emotions that rarely surface. The Orchard by Peter Heller is just that book. It is an incredible character driven novel that does not have a strong, definitive plot, but more so follows the life of a mother and daughter. The story is told from the daughter's current day perspective and shares glimpses of her current life and how her mother influenced who she is today. It is powerful and delves into the depths of love that a mother has for their child and how influential that relationship can be.
The Orchard follows the story of Hayley and her seven year old daughter, Frith. They live in a rustic cabin on an old orchard in Vermonth, with their Bernese mountain dog, Bear. Hayley and Frith moved to the Vermont foothills from Denver. They left behind Hayley's husband, Frith's father, who is battling a drug addiction. Their days are spent with each other, enjoying their simply lifestyle, the bountiful nature around them: picking apples and tapping maple trees for syrup. One day, an unexpected visitor arrives and quickly becomes an important fixture in their lives. This visitor, Rosie, is an artist who lives in the town nearby. She quickly becomes a vital part of Hayley and Frith's solitary life, joining them almost daily for picnics, swimming trips, and adventures. Frith is a precocious little girl, with a colorful imagination. She is homeschooled by Hayley, who translates China's Tang dynasty poetry for a living, and learns all she knows from her mother and Rosie.
This story wrapped me in and tugged at my heartstrings. There is no specific plot, other than Hayley and Frith's daily life in the Vermont mountains, it is a highly character. This novel is heavily character driven and has touches of literary fiction. It is told from Frith's modern day perspective, as a daughter reading the poems her mother translated during her lifetime. The poems coincide with Hayley's life and Frith connects with them and remembers her memories with her mother. Heller really dives deep into relationships and how different love can look, particularly the mother/daughter dynamic and strong, female friendships. Hayley left behind the love of her life, knowing she needed to in order to create a better life for her and Frith. Though her husband is an abusive drug addict, that is not who he truly is and that is not the man she so deeply loves. Heller's writing is haunting when he discusses this relationship and is incredibly deep.
I first experienced Heller's writing when I read The River. Though I enjoyed that book, The Orchard topped the cake. I became so engrossed in Hayley, Frith, and Rosie's lives and the ending tore my heart to shreds. I typically am not a crier when it comes to books, but this one brought me to tears. The story is poetic and powerful and the translated poetry created a beautiful story structure. Heller writes with descriptive flare when he discusses nature and it almost feels as if "nature" is a character on it's own. I absolutely loved this one and ended up giving it a ★★★★★ review. I was not sure if this book was going to be one that I fell in love with, but the more I read, the deeper I became involved in the character's lives. The fact this novel brought me to tears, genuine tears, solidified the five star review from me.
If you are looking for a beautifully written book about the deep love between a mother and her daughter, please check out The Orchard by Peter Heller. I swear, it will touch your soul. The Orchard is available on Scribd, the "Netflix of Reading." I have a subscription to Scribd and have been dabbling in their amazing audiobook and digital downloads. They honestly have every book you can ever imagine and they are all available at your fingertips and for only $8.99/month! That is less than the cost of a single book!
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