Review: Up High in the Trees

Kiara Brinkman, author of ‘Up high in the Trees’, grew up first in the Midwest and them some more in California. She graduated from Brown University and earned her MFA from Goddard College. She has been working with children her whole life, and currently lives in San Francisco.

‘Up high in the Trees’ is an interesting look at the grieving process from the eyes of an eight year old boy. This novel is moving and disturbing, the characters are very real, and you find yourself cheering for Sebby from page one.

The narrator has autism and sees the world in a different manner. Thrust into a confused family in the midst of a serious loss, this young boy's simple, honest depiction of his family and his own pain and path to acceptance is engaging, touching and well written.

Type: Fiction, 336 pages, Hardcover

An exquisite debut novel about a family in turmoil told in the startling, deeply affecting voice of a nine-year-old, autistic boy. Following the sudden death of Sebby’s mother, his father takes Sebby to live in the family’s summerhouse, hoping it will give them both time and space to recover. But Sebby’s father deteriorates in this new isolation, leaving Sebby struggling to understand his mother’s death alone, dreaming and even re-living moments of her life. He ultimately reaches out to a favorite teacher back home and to two nearby children who force him out of the void of the past and help him to exist in the present. In spare and gorgeous prose buoyed by the life force of its small, fearless narrator, Up High in the Trees introduces an astonishingly fresh and powerful literary voice.

“An astonishing debut… SebbyLane is a Little Prince for our times.” – Christina Garcia

Excerpt from author interview with ELISABETH SCHMITZ, VP Executive Editor at Grove/Atlantic, interviews KIARA

ES: You do a lot of work with children—can you talk about why you enjoy that?—
KB: I like being around children because they’re honest, spontaneous, surprising. I don’t subscribe to the belief that children are angelic, perfect beings. I just think of them as young and new to life, and so in need of guidance and support, because the world can be a scary place.

Plus, I think I’m a better person when I’m around children—in that I’m generally more patient, more open-minded, kinder. I know, at the very least, children deserve to be understood and treated with respect.

ES: The young narrator in Up High displays some of the behaviors associated with autism. Can you talk a little about the work you’ve done with children on the spectrum?—
KB: One of the students at the afterschool program where I worked had Asperger Syndrome, so I became interested in autism as I got to know this particular young boy. He could be challenging at times, because his responses to seemingly small things were dramatic. If he got upset, he’d hide or refuse to talk. I learned to make sure to discuss the day’s schedule with him in advance, prepare him for transitions and, when necessary, guide him through peer interaction. It helped that right away, he and I got along well. I’m not the kind of teacher who gets all amped-up around kids— I think they can see right through that sort of energy— I tend to be just myself, and he responded to that.

This boy was incredibly bright. Out of nowhere, he’d ask the most interesting questions. I remember once, we were walking to the park on a field trip and he was my partner—we had to walk everywhere in pairs. I was asking him something boring about school, and he said, “Why do they call it footage?” He was referring, I correctly assumed, to film. I thought about it, and then guessed that maybe it was because filmmakers measured what they’d captured by the foot. Anyway, he made me think about things that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, which I appreciated. I learned a lot from him in that way.

ES: So, in Up High, where does the narrator’s voice comes from?—
KB: I had Sebby’s voice in my head all the way back in college. It was something I’d played around with in short stories.

His voice really comes from me— he’s a more distilled, visceral version of myself— or, more accurately, who I was as a kid. Though, to be honest, I still have some of Sebby’s instincts— I mean, don’t we all? Aren’t there moments when you’d like to hide under a table to escape an uncomfortable situation or just be alone with your thoughts?

I think that being around the boy I tutor as well as the boy at the afterschool program helped me to better understand and further shape Sebby’s character, but the voice really originates from me.