What is it about gardens that, in a writer’s mind, makes them a prefect place to locate a secret? Be it The Secret Garden, or The Girl in the Garden, the added air of mystery makes for good reading. Lisa Jewell’s The Girls in The Garden, takes this atmosphere of intrigue and throws in a bit of darkness.
The book begins with twelve year old Pip finding her thirteen year old sister, Grace, unconscious and exposed in the communal garden behind their flat. From here the book is split into two parts: Before, detailing the events leading up to Pip finding Grace; and After, which deals with the aftermath of the same and resolves the mystery of how and why Grace came to be there. To say anything more would be to give away too much. I will say that the book deals with issues that parents and guardians of teenagers today will find relevant and familiar.
The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the description of life in a communal living space. Even though the book is set in London, the spirit of living in a community of flats, sharing a communal garden is one that is shared in many cities around the world. Jewell’s garden is a darker but well-known place. Having grown up in a flat in Mumbai, the descriptions of people and relationships in the book were familiar and I found myself identifying with the characters. It is this life experience that allows me to believe that the events of this book are scarily enough, plausible.
There are other parts of the book however, that call for a suspension of disbelief that I find difficult. For instance, at one point in the book, Grace’s mother Clare, walks in on her sitting on the lap of a boy. While this shocks Clare, she never challenges Grace or has any sort of discussion about it. I find this rather strange and unlikely, even taking into consideration that the parents today are more open-minded and permissive.
Another strength of the book is the way its characters are written. Jewell does a fabulous job of constructing characters that are believable, from the new-age mom to the neglected teenager. She paints the shades of gray into the people in her book so well that she allows us to empathize with them, without demonizing them.
It is after a long time that a book has surprised me. I truly did not see the ending coming. But it did seem to be a bit rushed and left me wanting more –a bigger payoff for my investment in the lives of these characters?
As a concluding note, it was nice to read a book with “girls” in the title, that was actually about “girls” and not grown women. The Girls in The Garden is very relevant to our information age, where young people are being exposed to ideas and opportunities that were not available to earlier generations. While this can be a force for good, it can also, if not kept under check, be misused. This ultimately seems to be the message that The Girls in The Garden has for us.
The Girls in The Garden, published by Atria books, is forthcoming on June 7th 2016.
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.
Note: This book reminded me a lot of The Dinner, which though quite different a book has some broad brush strokes in common.