Twelve-year-old Evelyn—Evie—Walman is not obsessed with death. She does think about it a lot, though, but only because her family runs a Jewish funeral home. At twelve, Evie already knows she’s going to be a funeral director when she grows up. Even if it means kids at school call her ‘corpse girl’ and say she smells like death. They’re just mean and don’t get how important funeral directors are.
Evie loves her part-time job at the funeral home. She cleans—dusting caskets, polishing pews, and vacuuming the chapel—and on funeral days, she dresses up and hands out tissues and offers her condolences to mourners. She doesn’t normally help her parents with the grieving families, until one day when they ask her to help with Oren, a boy her age who was in a tragic car accident that killed both his parents. Evie is to keep him company while they make the funeral arrangements with his uncle.
Evie knows all about funerals and is ready—even eager—to help the boy. Until it all goes terribly wrong. She quickly realizes that while she may know a lot about funerals, she doesn’t know very much about grief at all. She’s perplexed that her attempts to console and comfort the boy don’t work. He won’t speak, doesn’t care about her attempts at condolences, and even slams a door in her face.
Determined to make it right, and with a little help from her parents, Evie learns better how to deal with the grieving boy and they even develop a friendship. She’s committed to helping him heal as much as she can. Even if what he wants is for her to take him behind the scenes at the funeral home, showing him a side of the operation that few people ever see. And something she’s never seen—a real dead body.
TREE OF LIFE is a heartwarming, honest, respectful, and sometimes wry look at the inner workings of a Jewish funeral home through the lens of a tween who simply sees it as the family business.