Books

Nature, Community, and Magic in the California Redwoods

Kendra Winchester is a Contributing Editor for Book Riot where she writes about audiobooks and disability literature. She is also the Founder of Read Appalachia, which celebrates Appalachian literature and writing. Previously, Kendra co-founded and served as Executive Director for Reading Women, a podcast that gained an international following over its six-season run. In her off hours, you can find her writing on her Substack, Winchester Ave, and posting photos of her Corgis on Instagram and Twitter @kdwinchester.

Welcome to Read this Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that needs to jump onto your TBR pile! Sometimes these books are brand new releases that I don’t want you to miss, while others are some of my backlist favorites. This week, let’s talk about a novel set in a redwood grove in California.

a graphic of the cover of The Red Grove by Tessa Fontaine

The Red Grove by Tessa Fontaine

I first read Tessa Fontaine’s memoir, Electric Woman, back in 2019. I fell in love with her writing style, her beautiful descriptions and vibrant characters. Now she’s back with her debut novel The Red Grove, which centers around a community in the California Redwoods that provides a sanctuary for women seeking a safe haven from domestic violence.

Luce is a teenager living at the Red Grove with her mom, Gloria, and her little brother, Roo. Luce’s whole world revolves around the Red Grove and its teachings. Luce knows all the statistics about women experiencing domestic violence from men. All of the stories, facts, and figures swirl around in her head, making her grateful that in the Red Grove, it’s said that it’s impossible for a man to hurt a woman.

Gloria works as a psychic to help support the household, but when one of her clients collapses and dies while visiting her house, the man’s family believes that she might have had something to do with his death. When Gloria disappears, Luce starts to try to track down where she went. She talks to Grove elders, calls back a mysterious journalist, and begins uncovering secrets that all of the adults around her never told her.

The Red Grove is this immersive story that takes the reader into this community that seems so perfect on its surface. They have their own history and traditions, all set against the peaceful backdrop of California’s giant redwoods. As Luce’s world unravels, we learn more and more about the characters around her and the role they play in the community. Underneath all of that is the thrum of a quiet power that the reader keeps wondering about; is it magic, or do these hints of the fantastical have a scientific reason behind them?

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