Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush is a ghost story with a purpose. Through the supernatural intervention of Brother Rush, Tree Pratt comes to understand something of her family’s past, which helps her to deal with her present problems and work out the identity that she will carry into a hopefully happier future.
Tree is fourteen and has just “begun growing into a woman,” which is why the “street dudes” she passes on her way home from school have started to notice her. Tree is no typical teenage girl; in some ways, she is the mother of the family, at least to her seventeen-year-old brother Dab, who is mentally disabled and cannot set the table without frustration. Tree lives an isolated, friendless life of school and Dab, and has for some time. Tree has such a life and such enormous responsibilities because her mother, Muh Vy, is a practical nurse who must live at her jobs, at least during the week.
The novel opens not with any of Tree’s family problems in the present but with her discovery of Muh Vy’s brother’s ghost. One Friday afternoon after school, in the little room where she often goes to draw, Tree sees him. “Brother was in the middle of the table. Not standing on the top of it in the middle, but through the middle.” Brother Rush holds “an oval space shaped like a mirror,” and Tree is able to enter this “shining space” into her own past. At first she does not realize it is her past. She becomes her own mother a decade earlier—when Muh Vy was younger and had two small children—and she experiences Muh Vy’s rural Ohio world through her mother’s eyes. On this and subsequent trips with Brother Rush, Tree will witness his death and see her mother beat Dab. Tree learns her family history—and its tragedies.
The present, however, is as insistent...
(The entire section is 743 words.)