Tell it to the Trees opens with the death of Anu, a single woman who rents the “back house” of the Dharma family. It is the middle of winter in northern British Columbia and Anu is found frozen in the snow outside. The Dharma children watch the police investigate the scene from inside their warm kitchen.
Anu had come from Vancouver to spend time away from it all and to write. She found the tranquility of the interior energizing. She tries to strike up a friendship with Suman Dharma, the second wife of the patriarch in the family. Suman brings Anu a delicious lunch every day, and both women look forward to the visit that breaks up the day. But Anu suspects things are not altogether happy inside the family home. When she questions Anu about it, a strain is put on the thin friendship.
Using shifting narrators, Badami shows the story of this troubled family. Varsha, who lost her mother at a young age, clings to Suman, terrified that she will lose her step-mother as well. Varsha, is a frightened but scary control freak and goes so far as to hide Suman’s passport, knowing that she cannot leave without it.
Hemant, the little brother, listens to everything Varsha, his older half-sister, says and is controlled by her. Her thoughts about what is going on around her push the plot of the story. When bad things happen the children have been told to tell it to the trees. The story is heartbreaking and the isolation of an small town winter landscape mirrors the isolation some immigrant women face with no recourse to change it. The story is subtle but the book once begun is hard to put down.