Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

September 2, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): If the preacher’s wife’s petticoat showed, the ladies would make the talk last a week. But on July 5, 1906, things took a scandalous turn. That was the day E. Rucker Blakeslee, proprietor of the general store and barely three weeks a widower, eloped with Miss Love Simpson—a woman half his age and, worse yet, a Yankee! On that day, fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy’s adventures began and an unimpeachably pious, deliciously irreverent town came to life.

Not since To Kill A Mockingbird has a novel so deftly captured the subtle crosscurrents of small-town Southern life. Olive Ann Burns classic bestseller brings to vivid life an era that will never exist again, exploring timeless issues of love, death, coming of age, and the ties that bind families and generations.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • Will Tweedy was a believable, likable character. He mostly talked, acted, and reacted like a 14-year-old, instead of a highly precocious and annoyingly wise-beyond-his-years mini-adult. How refreshing!
  • I have no way of knowing what the Deep South was like in 1906 (when the events of this novel took place), but Olive Ann Burns did a convincing job of setting the scene. There was nothing in this book, not even language, that made me stop and think, “Wait, that sounds like it came from the ’80s!” (when the novel was published).
  • Most of the characters, even the relatively minor ones, had distinctive personalities. The only semi-regular character that remained fuzzy to me was Will’s mom Mary Willis, but that’s only a minor complaint. The rest of them, including Lightfoot and Hosie, were drawn quite well.
  • The little touches like the dog T.R. (Teddy Roosevelt) and Will’s catchphrase “Boy howdy!” really helped flesh Will out for the reader.
  • I have some experience living in a small town where everyone is up in everyone else’s business and the most innocent actions are bound to be misinterpreted by the busybodies, and I have to say that Burns’s depiction of life in Cold Sassy captures that element perfectly. This place was interesting to read about, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live there!
  • I thought Will and Lightfoot’s friendship was portrayed well. Sure, the reader wanted them to end up together, but that probably wasn’t even close to being possible back then. Having Lightfoot marry Hosie was far more likely and realistic.
  • I liked that Miss Love wasn’t presented either as a gold digger or as someone who was immediately in love with Grandpa Rucker. She entered into the marriage initially as a business arrangement (for the house, furnishings, and a bit of cash), but then ended up truly loving Rucker by the end.


  • The book dragged in a lot of places — far too many for me to give this one 5 stars. I got tired of all the descriptions of car trips, training of Mr. Beautiful (Love Simpson’s horse), etc. and just wanted the author to get on with it already.
  • There was some really dark stuff in here that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. Yes, terrible things happen in the midst of real life, but Camp’s messy suicide and Love’s confession that she had been raped by her father took A LOT of the joy out of this book.
  • I didn’t care for the anecdote of the mean townie who tried to kill a stray dog by setting it on fire. Then again, I am overly sensitive when it comes to dogs.
  • There was too much talk of religion for my tastes. I have no philosophical objection to the topic; it was just extremely dull.

Significance of Title:

The town was called Cold Sassy because A) there was a huge sassafras tree near the railroad tracks; and B) the town was the coldest point that western pioneers encountered between the mountains and Augusta, Georgia.


Cold Sassy Tree is a book that features wonderful characters that are highly relatable and enjoyable. Framed as Will Tweedy’s coming-of-age story, it captures the essence of small-town life at the turn of the 20th century in a very engaging way. There are a few problems with it, but overall it is definitely worth a read. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

One Response to “Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns”

  1. […] Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns […]

Leave a Reply