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Jena M. Steinmetz
The Witness Tree
A Labor Day storm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, topples a rare witness tree--a 150-year-old white oak rooted near a famed Civil War battleground. Breanne Walker, a new preservationist at the National Military Park's museum, is roused from her bed to view the remarkable findings below the tree's massive roots--a diary dating back to the Battle of Gettysburg...along with a body in an unmarked grave. Breanne's boss tasks her with authenticating and connecting the two discoveries, but she is given only days, and she must work in secret so as not to alert the senior curator to whom the project rightly belongs. Succeeding in the task will validate her single-minded focus on her career. If caught with the diary, her professional life is over. But the further Breanne dives into its pages, the more the mysterious diarist seems to transform her life.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10


Plot/Idea: The toppling of a 150-year-old tree on a Gettysburg battlefield unearths a mystery that preservationist Breanne Walker is unable to resist: a leather-bound diary and an unidentified skeleton. A student of history and its mysteries, she soon becomes embroiled in the diarist's life, and, as the past begins to overlap with the present, Breanne truly begins to understand the importance of history and the people who lived it, and her own responsibility to conserve it—larger implications for both her professional and personal lives. 

Prose: Steinmetz's storytelling is engaging and flows faultlessly between the past and present. The contents of the diary (and Abigail's tale) are so engrossing at times that it is easy to become as lost in the past as Breanne. The Witness Tree is a lovely historical drama that is beautifully written and a joy to read.

Originality: Past and present overlapping as history's mysteries are slowly revealed to a diligent first-person archivist/heroine is not steeped in originality; however, the story is so detailed, well-researched, well written, and thoughtfully executed that it is easy to become enthralled by it.

Character Development/Execution: The execution of the diarist A.M.P  is wonderful—and, overall, the present takes a backseat to the 1863 account of her life of loneliness, courage, and love set to the backdrop of the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Despite this, the parallels between the two women are undeniable and this also adds depth to both of their stories—especially Breanne's, who benefits from her empathy, passion, and devotion to preserving the past and this unknown woman's life.

Date Submitted: April 05, 2022