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Book Review

The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackall has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Tree Taylor is 13 in the summer of 1963. She has two summer goals: write a feature that will launch her writing career and get her first real kiss from a boy. Unfortunately, there's rarely any excitement in the small town of Hamilton, Missouri. Still, Tree is determined to find some news that will secure her the one freshman spot on the Hamilton High Blue and Gold newspaper staff in the fall. One morning when she hears a gunshot down the road, she thinks she's found her story.

Tree's father has already run to the scene of the shooting, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kinney. From the bushes, Tree sees Mrs. Kinney with a gun in her hand, talking to Dad. Dad checks on Mr. Kinney, who is wounded and cursing loudly from the house. Dad returns to the porch and takes the gun from Mrs. Kinney.

When the police arrive, Dad explains the situation by saying, "Accidents happen." Tree isn't convinced it was an accident, though. By all accounts, Mr. Kinney is a mean man who has been causing people grief all his life. Some even suspect him of abusing Mrs. Kinney. As rumors about the shooting swirl through town, Tree vows to get the true story. The local newspaperman even tells her he will print it if she does.

Tree also spends the summer working at the local pool with her best friend, Sarah. As basket girls, they ensure the safety of people's belongings. She frequently watches the gorgeous Ray Miller, who often sits poolside with her journalism nemesis, Wanda. Wanda's aunt is in charge of the Blue and Gold staff, and Wanda is vying for the reporter spot Tree desperately wants. Wanda does her best to undermine Tree's confidence at every turn. Tree also gets better acquainted with Penny Atkinson, a new classmate, at the pool.

Tree spends Saturday nights the way she has for years, playing games or dancing with her older sister, Eileen, and their 17-year-old friend, Jack Adams. Her parents and Jack's have a weekly jam session on their various instruments, playing 40s music for hours. Tree loves music and, with Jack's help, has become a wonderful dancer. Her rain dances at the pool are legendary, almost always producing a storm that allows for early pool closure. One night, Jack takes Tree to a clearing where the kids his age have dance parties. She impresses everyone with her moves but is upset to see Eileen's boyfriend, Butch, with another girl.

Tree continues to dig for answers in the Kinney shooting. Her normally helpful father refuses to give her any information about what he saw. He dislikes the rumors and wants Tree to leave the situation alone. Tree decides to visit Mrs. Kinney. The downtrodden woman, now alone while her husband is hospitalized, invites Tree in for cocoa. Tree isn't brave enough to ask the probing questions she's prepared, but she continues to visit the woman. She learns Mrs. Kinney is smart, well read and compassionate, and they begin to develop a friendship.

Tree and the other pool employees are all too familiar with Mrs. Cozad, who frequently gets free baby-sitting by leaving her boys at the pool for long periods of time. When the pool closes early one day due to stormy weather, Mrs. Cozad writes an editorial about lazy pool staff cheating her kids out of their swimming time. Tree writes a humorous poem in response, which she intends only to share with the staff. The poem ends up in the paper as well, gaining Tree some notoriety. Her mother is upset, but her father is proud of her for speaking out.

Sarah announces her family is moving due to financial problems, leaving Tree without her long-time best friend. Ray Miller begins to pay a little more attention to Tree on her dinner breaks. As Tree interacts with Penny at the pool, she begins to notice how uncomfortable the girl seems around her stepbrother, Chuck. Tree feels as though her life is overflowing with other people's secrets. She's not sure which ones to tell and which ones to leave alone.

Tree takes Penny with her to visit Mrs. Kinney. The three come up with a plan to give Gary, a neighbor boy with leukemia, a memorable birthday. Mrs. Kinney feels for Gary because he can't get out of the house due to his illness. She talks about the value of being able to travel to wonderful places in your mind, even if you feel trapped in your circumstances. Penny seems to understand completely.

Tree's dad often expresses his concerns about Vietnam, disliking how papers use the watered down term "conflict" to describe a war that is costing people their lives. When he sends a poem of his own to the Kansas City Star for publication, the Taylors' phone rings off the hook. Then friends, including Jack's dad, stop speaking to Tree's father. To distract the family, Dad takes everyone to the drive-in. Tree sees Ray there with a bunch of friends and decides maybe he's not as interested in her as she'd hoped. Tree and Eileen also see Eileen's boyfriend making out with another girl. Eileen chooses to pretend it isn't happening.

Chuck continues to terrorize Penny, and Tree is concerned he's hurting her. Though Penny begs Tree not to say anything, Tree decides to tell Dad. He goes to Penny's house and talks to Penny's mom, who kicks Chuck out. Dad tells Tree it's difficult to know when to tell a secret, but in this case, she did the right thing.

Tree finally asks Mrs. Kinney what happened with her husband. Mrs. Kinney admits that she shot him because he'd hurt her so many times. Tree knows she will never tell Mrs. Kinney's secret. She invites Mrs. Kinney to join her and Jack at the city's big Steam and Gas Engine Festival that weekend. Jack shares another secret with Tree: He's going to Vietnam. He kisses her on the forehead, fulfilling one of her summer goals, and asks her to write to him.

Tree ends the story by summarizing the year that follows. She gets the position on the Blue and Gold staff without writing about the shooting. Mrs. Kinney starts writing a column for the local paper. Wanda gets pregnant and marries a basketball player. Martin Luther King gives his famous speech, and President Kennedy is shot. Jack dies in the war. Tree takes Ray to a dance in the clearing and honors Jack's memory there.

Christian Beliefs

Tree's dad used to teach her Sunday school class. He told the kids nothing was impossible with God. Tree's friend Sarah always jokes with Dad, trying to stump him by finding something silly that is impossible for God. Dad tells Tree that we don't always know which secrets to keep and which to tell. He says only God sees everything, and there aren't any secrets with Him. The rest of us have to figure things out as best we can.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Dad is a compassionate doctor who respects his patients' privacy. He makes a point of sharing wisdom and inspiration with Tree. He's concerned about Vietnam and writes letters to newspapers and lawmakers to share his thoughts. Mom is a nurse and an attentive mother. Jack's mother, Donna, is the town gossip. She starts a citywide commotion when Jack jokingly tells her the store where he works was robbed. Mr. Kinney abuses his wife for years. Though Mrs. Kinney admits to Tree that she shot her husband, she proves to be a good friend and a caring woman. When given the chance, she works to help the sick and educate the community. Mrs. Cozad regularly uses the local pool for free baby-sitting, leaving her boys there for long periods of time.


Ray starts to say sh-- and changes it to "stuff."


Wanda sticks out her chest to get attention. Tree says if Wanda's action is what sexy looks like, Tree doesn't understand the meaning of the word. Tree mentions a lifeguard named Laura who doesn't need to stick out her chest, since that's the part of her most of the guys notice. When Tree and her family watch an episode of a show called "The Saint," Tree mentions a bedroom scene that begins right before a commercial break. Though Tree sees nothing explicit, she says she now understands some of what Butch and Eileen may be doing.

Tree says no one ever explained why her cousin had gotten married while still in high school and had a baby six months later. Tree and Eileen see Butch making out with another girl in the backseat of his car. Jack kisses Tree softly on the forehead. Wanda gets pregnant, marries a basketball player and drops out of school.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Dandi Daley Mackall






Record Label



Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House.


On Video

Year Published





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