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3.40  ·  Rating details ·  225 ratings  ·  64 reviews
In the tradition of Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish and Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist comes a debut novel of an unusual family who have made their home at the margins of an unusual place.

Janie Treeborne lives on an orchard at the edge of Elberta, Alabama, and in time, she has become its keeper. A place where conquistadors once walked, and where the peaches they left behind now
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by Picador
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3.40  · 
Rating details
 ·  225 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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Angela M
Thought I would like this more - southern, a family saga of sorts. I don’t mind a story that isn’t a straight narrative, but I had a hard time connecting in this one and it was too much of an effort to concentrate on who was who and the various time frames after reading 50 pages .
Jul 13, 2018 rated it liked it
The eighty year old Hernando de Soto Dam in Elberta, Alabama was compromised and expected to crumble and flood the surrounding area. The Authority had been trying to purchase the lands and relocate inhabitants including elderly Janie Treeborne. Janie, a third generation Treeborne, refused to leave The Seven, her seven hundred acre parcel. She insisted that "me and this place is just too tangled up".

In present day Elberta, Janie lives alone on the edge of a roadside peach orchard that she bought
Diane S ☔
Putting this aside for now. May pick it back up later. Just don't have the concentration for it at this time.
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was a very difficult read. I got through the first half of the book and then lost all attention and concentration. There are a few time different time periods (going backwards in time) which is confusing in and of itself. The characters, the place, the language and the habits, are all Old South. The characters are confusing in that they are all pretty much related in one way or another. But most especially confusing, is the weird boy/doll (?) Crusoe, made of sand and mud and whatever other ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Treeborne is an achievement. It has the fearlessness of a first novel but it is told with dizzying skill. There were many choices which puzzled me initially, but by the last page, I understood that it was all laid down just as messy and perfect as life. It's a book that begs to be re-read. The life and death of Elberta, Alabama is told through the eyes of the Treeborne family, its women in particular. There are star-crossed lovers, dreams deferred, shattered glory, a giant catfish in the trunk o ...more
Janelle • She Reads with Cats
Thank you so much to Picador for providing my free copy of TREEBORNE by Caleb Johnson - all opinions are my own.

The story centers around three generations of the Treeborne family and their relationship with beautiful Elberta, Alabama. The story is rooted in Southern vernacular and is told in a series of flashbacks. The novel starts off in the present day with Janie Treeborne being interviewed about her life and the destruction of the Hernando de Soto Dam which threatens her home and livelihood.
Multiple points of view, several generations, and three different timelines carry this story's remarkable unveiling of the Treeborne family who owned and operated a peach orchard in rural Alabama. I loved the cover but sadly the constant flipping from present day to the 50's and then the 20's and back again made it difficult for me to connect to any of the characters.
Bonnye Reed
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GNab This debut novel is classic southern - Caleb Johnson can take his place among the best of them. He brings us angst and anger as well as love and laughter, and it all fits neatly into the background of small town boredom and anti-miscegenation laws. Although it would be hard to be bored in Johnson's Elberta, Alabama. I enjoyed the way he folded in the influence of the Elberta Tribe - something not often acknowledged in modern southern literature - and the understanding and love obvious in th ...more
Sarah Black
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
This was a book that I really struggled to read. It was written very well, but it wasn’t the kind of book that I normally enjoy reading. The details and descriptions are great, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the story.

The characters talk with a slang, and it was hard to get past it at certain points. This venaucular was well written and takes a lot of talent to write, but quickly made me want to stop reading. There are also several different characters and different time frames, a
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
If I had to chart my enjoyment of this book it would be jagged peaks and valleys. I was confused, swept away, frustrated, moved and ultimately satisfied. Set in rural Alabama in the late 40s, 50s and “present” day, this tale of family, place and arts winds up and down and in and around several characters. What sparkles most is the tangible sense of place Johnson evokes. I could see, smell and even taste the environment. But I could never quite grab hold of the characters and that prevented me fr ...more
Donna Everhart
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
My review for New York Journal of Books
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
via my blog:
'What makes an Elberta so sweet, Lee Malone knew, is how long it’s allowed to trouble the tree.'

Could that be true of Janie Treeborne too, being allowed to trouble her own land? This southern fiction debut begins with Janie Treeborne refusing to leave her family land, The Seven in Elberta, Alabama despite knowing that ‘the water is coming.’ The Hernando de Soto dam has ‘served it’s purpose for 80 years’, her grandfather having built it, her own
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Did Not Finish. It was well-told, and the backwards-in-time structure was really interesting, but I think small-town Alabama in 1958 is just not someplace I want to visit right now. Also, what's a "dirt boy?" This young girl keeps carrying one around with her (I think she's twelve? What's up with a twelve-year-old carrying an object around with her like this? It seemed definitely weird.) and it sounds like some strange doll but maybe it's more of a fetish with magic properties or something? It j ...more
Jun 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
DNF. Holy crap, this was hard to follow, not only plot-wise but sentence-wise as well. There were a lot of characters to keep track of and what was up with the dirt baby? Never did figure out what it was supposed to be because after about two chapters of crap that didn't make much sense, I gave it up.
Rachel Watkins
TREEBORNE is the story of southern family written in a truly authentic venacular and set in one of the most beautiful sections of Alabama. The Treeborne family is complicated. Those who knew them might call them touched, though that often means they have windows into worlds that others aren't privileged to see. I love the celebration of the organic world as well as Hugh, who was an artist in the vein of Howard Fenster.
Lindsey Z
Jul 20, 2018 rated it liked it
*3.5 stars*
A haunting new generation southern gothic novel in which we learn how the past indelibly shapes the present in a small rural town in Alabama. The cast of characters of this novel is impressive and each one is so well rendered. From the young girl Janie who carries around the clay doll her grandfather Hugh left (a doll that comes to life frequently in the novel) to her aunt Tammy who wishes to be on the big screen in Hollywood and escape small town Alabama living to the black man her g
Liz Major
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautiful story that transports you to the old South and a certain time and way of thinking. A wonderful first novel.
Brent Godwin
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Simply put: Caleb Johnson has the potential to be one of this generation's best writers. Read this book.
Jerry Smith
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Fine Southern Gothic.
Easily one of my top 2-3 books of the year, it's hard to believe this is a debut.
I can't wait for his next work.
Blaine Duncan
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The debut novel of Caleb Johnson, Treeborne, opens with the elderly Janie Treeborne recounting possible, probable facts to a young relative where she explains how she came to live on her peach orchard; yet with the opening line ("The water was coming"), the novel forebodes a simmering presence underneath both the land and the story Janie unravels.

Janie Treeborne and the rest of the Treebornes have lived on the edge of Elberta, Alabama seeingly as long as the land existed -- or at least since the
Mary Foust
Mar 18, 2019 rated it liked it
MIGHT contain spoilers.
Okay, for starters, it's Jim Crow era Alabama. You get what you get. Lots of N-word usage and some instances of violence toward the African American character. That's not the author's fault, that's just the sad history of where our country was in the 1920s-1950s (when the brunt of this story takes place).

Also, lots of animal cruelty/animal killings that, at at times, seemed to be there just for the shock value. I get why some of it was in there, but there wer
Kyra Johnson
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-copies
Treeborne is an epic family saga set in Elberta, Alabama and spans a period of 80 years, beginning in 1929. The story is mainly told through the viewpoint of the Treeborne family. Janie Treeborne provides the central narrative and is the spokesperson for the majority of the book. The story begins in the present day where an elderly Janie is being interviewed about her past and the destruction of the Hernando de Soto Dam, which threatens her home on the edge of a peach orchard that has been hande ...more
Zachary Houle
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Caleb Johnson — not to be confused with an American Idol winner — may be only a debut author, but he has delivered a lasting, impressionable novel with Treeborne. Set in the Deep South of the 1920s and ’50s, this family saga takes a little bit of warming up to, but, once the reader manages to find their way through the dense, lilting Southern prose, the rewards are immense. This is a novel about family and community, and how the two are intertwined. It is also a book about the magic of art, and ...more
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I normally don't leave reviews, but Treeborne lingered in my mind and I just have to share these thoughts.

This book was a fantastic read, immersing readers in its world right from the first page. This is not the kind of book you rush through, nor is it for the reader who doesn't enjoy close-reading. Johnson does a great job of elevating relevant details, designed to let the reader inhabit Elberta, Alabama, his fictional Southern town that feels as real and solid as the book in the reader's hand
Jordan Stivers
Treeborne is a truly stunning debut novel.

The characters are so complex and interesting that the multiple point-of-view and multiple time periods is definitely the best way to tell their stories. Johnson does a masterful job of taking the reader in and out of the past while giving each character a very unique voice. Each character changes throughout the story as you fall in and out of love with each of them. The ending is perfection and the little plants along the way left me as a very satisfie
Holy wow, this is gorgeous. Full disclosure: I know Caleb and have loved what I've heard of his writing previously, but Treeborne hit me with the full force of what he can do with words. The novel's like the love child of Faulkner (granted I've only read The Sound and the Fury but even so), Marquez, and Robert Johnson, the characters compelling and their acts and the land they live in both beautiful and dark. As real as Elberta feels (seriously, you can practically taste those peaches), it's not ...more
May 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Caleb Johnson’s novel, Treeborne, is a deep dive into a family with serious skeletons in their closets and firm beliefs in their own righteousness. The Treebornes of Elberta, Alabama have always been considered weird by the rest of the town. Hugh Treeborne made weird sculptures from found objects. His daughter Tammy wants to clearcut the family property and has dreams about being in the movie business. His granddaughter, Janie, is probably the strangest Treeborne of all. Janie narrates her story ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who like dense intricate narrative
Four and a half stars. Exceptional first novel that rewards a close reading and is worth a second read. Highly recommended tale of memory, loss, and the stories we tell about both. With peaches and conquistadors.
This novel builds slowly, but one is soon immersed. Kind of like rising floodwaters.
If you have ever been fortunate enough to sit with an elderly person and invite them to share the tale of their life, the structure of this novel will not seem unfamiliar to you.
This is a great novel fr
Kathleen Gray
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an intriguing debut. Johnson has chosen a challenging way to tell the story of a family- the Treebornes - and their small town of Elberta, Alabama in a sort of oral history. This spans 30 years of oddity, bad decisions, love, loss, and well, lots of stuff. In fact, there might be a little too much crammed in here but that's how life works. Janie is the narrator, telling her tale as the government closes in to take her land via a flood. Her grandfather Hugh was an artist whose "found art" ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Picador for this ARC of Treeborne by Caleb Johnson. This book is due in your favourite bookstore on June 5, 2018.

I am not going to lie, this was a hard read. I found the story confusing and anything to do with Crusoe very weird and would have like to understand that part better. The characters were interesting and well defined. Caleb Johnson has a talent for describing the landscapes. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there were too many loose ends and the ending
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Caleb Johnson is the author of the novel Treeborne. He grew up in Arley, AL, studied journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and earned an MFA from the University of Wyoming.

Johnson has worked as a newspaper reporter, a janitor, and a whole-animal butcher, among other jobs. He has been awarded a Jentel Writing Residency, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in fiction to the Sewanee Writ
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