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The Beach Trees Reader’s Guide

By Karen White

The Beach Trees by Karen White


Questions and Topics for Discussion


From the age of twelve, Julie Holt has known what a random tragedy can do to a family. At that tender age, her little sister disappeared—never to be found. It was a loss that slowly eroded the family bonds she once relied on.

As an adult with a prestigious job in the arts, Julie meets a struggling artist who reminds her so much of her sister, she can’t help feeling protective. It is a friendship that begins a long and painful process of healing for Julie, leading her to a house on the Gulf Coast, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and to stories of a mysterious family that take her deep into the past.



Karen White is the author of many acclaimed novels. She lives in Georgia with her family.


  • Why do you think Monica willed everything, including Beau and her beloved beach home, River Song, to Julie—especially as she still had family living? What were her intentions, and what was she trying to say? What are the repercussions for Julie?

  • How does Chelsea Holt’s disappearance shape Julie’s life? What emotions still haunt her, even after almost twenty years?

  • What significance does the portrait of Caroline Guidry with the alligator brooch hold to each member of her family? Are the sentiments diverse? What clues does it hold within it?

  • Do Aimee’s flashbacks fill us in with an objective history of the intertwined Guidry and Mercier families? What critical clues does Julie glean from them to advance her investigation?

  • How does the search into the past—and for loved ones including Caroline, Monica, Chelsea, and Aimee’s mother—influence the trajectory of the characters’ lives, psychologies, and their relationships to each other? How do secrets come to define and haunt the Guidrys?

  • What motivates Julie to dig through old case files and artifacts to connect the dots between the two families? Do you think she was foolish not to let sleeping dogs lie? Would you want to know the truth, especially if it was unsavory? Is this doggedness a beneficial trait, or are there costs for Julie? How does she end up untangling the mystery?

  • Why do you think the residents of the Gulf continue to rebuild after numerous tragedies—most recently from Camille, Katrina, and the BP oil spill—on the same plots of land that remain highly vulnerable? What might tie them to this place? What is the significance in rebuilding?

  • How does Julie’s life mirror that of Aimee’s? Both assumed a form of guardianship—of Johnny, Beau—and both seek answers to the unexplained tragedies in their lives, but what sets them apart? What do they offer to each other?

  • Do you think Aimee and Wes did the right thing in loving each other from afar, keeping their feelings secret to spare Gary’s heart? What were the consequences?

  • What did you think happened to Caroline? And who did you think killed Aimee’s mother? Were you shocked by the revelations? What kept the secrets airtight for so long, and what is at stake with them no longer being held?

  • What were Ray Von and Xavier Williams’ roles in the scandalous events? Do you think Xavier did the right and necessary things? Do you think he was effective in shielding Aimee?

  • What do you think the next chapter at River Song holds for Julie, Trey, Beau, and the rest of the Guidry family?
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