And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. –Mark 8:24
Like Trees Walking opens during Jubilee Season in Mobile, AL, a time when sea delicacies are easy taking on the beaches of the Gulf Coast. Roy Deacon looks back on a dark time in the history of Mobile. Roy remembers his senior year of high school as the son of a mortician who would someday take over his father’s business, and is surrounded by the turmoil that accompanies death on so many levels, and one particular occurrence trumps them all.
Like Trees, Walking: A Horrible Find Amid Ordinary Life
When Roy’s brother Paul stumbles upon a crime scene after working a night shift at the local mill—that he’s the one who finds the body is a horrible happenstance that enmeshes the family in the Donald story. Beyond the lynched body and the cross burned not far away on the courthouse lawn, there are difficult decisions to make in a time no one believes anyone should be dealing with such a tragedy.
Like Trees Walking is also a coming of age story for Roy Deacon, who—though he works hard in his family’s business—is also desperately trying to live the daily life of an average teen, showing up to watch his girlfriend’s rehearsals for her leading role in A Raisin in the Sun and spending time and questioning what he really wants to do with his life after college.
Like Trees, Walking: Brutal Reality, Clearly Seen
The title of Howard’s book—Like Trees, Walking—is a biblical reference to the semi-restored vision of a blind man, who will eventually see with complete clarity. This metaphor carries throughout the novel, as Roy pieces together the truth of the awful occurrence that day and as the community eventually begins to understand the greater implications of the murder.
Throughout the book, Roy gives a riveting account of the tale through the eyes of the community that knew and loved Michael Donald, a young man who had saved dollars for new converse shoes and was not above a pickup basketball game with his friends on a public court, a boy from a good family, the child of good people.
Roy is able to describe Michael’s wounds in excruciating detail, but notes that his description is only a fraction of that contained in the twenty-some-odd pages of the mortuary report. He also gives a detailed account of the toll the boy’s death takes on the attorneys who step up to handle the case and the activists who will not let Donald’s name be forgotten when it seems the wrong men are accused of and tried for the crime. Perhaps the most telling parts of the novel are Roy’s remembrances of how his brother Paul, who found the body hanging from that tree, dealt with the horrible, inexplicable death.
Like Trees Walking: A Story that Needs Re-telling
This book is emotional and some readers may find it difficult, but it is also a very worthy read. Not only is the story told beautifully and honestly, it is a story that needs telling, and perhaps telling over and over again. I have no hesitation in recommending Like Trees, Walking. In fact, if I were a teacher of civics or history or literature, I have a feeling this novel would find its way to the required reading list for my students. Make it required reading yourself—for you—today.
Tell us what events in your own lifetime changed your views of the world. Do you have a personal experience that helps you relate to story Roy Deacon tells in Like Trees, Walking?