Monday, August 1, 2016

The Girls in the Garden

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
Atria Books: 6/7/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476792217

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell is a highly recommended novel of suspense.

Due to tragic family circumstances, Clare and her two daughters, Pip and Grace (on the verge of turning 12 and 13), have moved into an apartment where the neighborhood shares a large (3 acres), picturesque communal garden spot. The neighborhood has a playground and garden areas for all the residents to enjoy. The girls make friends in the neighborhood.

But before we learn any of this, we know that something terrible has happened to Grace, It happens right at the start, when Pip is trying to take care of her drunk mother and Grace is not home yet, presumably still out enjoying the neighborhood block party. When Pip goes out to look for Grace, she finds her unconscious and bloody, lying in the rose garden.

At this point the narrative jumps back in time, to when Pip, Grace, and Clare moved to the neighborhood. We see the girls observe and meet the neighbors, and make friends. The story is mainly told through Pip, Clare, and Adele, a neighbor and mother of three girls Grace befriends.  Part of Pip's dialogue is told through letters she has written to her dad, including some drawings, who is away. We learn the backstory. We learn about the history of some of the residents in the neighborhood. We know that a girl died in the park years before and that her death might be connected to what is happening now.

You need to meet these people, learn their history, note observations made by some of the characters (especially Pip) and keep track of it all. You know something awful is going to happen in the near future, which increases the tension as you meet the neighbors, who could all be suspects. The Girls in the Garden is definitely a character driven novel. Jewell does a masterful job creating these characters and then slowly developing the intricate plot around them. There are several suspects, but who would have hurt Grace? And will Pip's observations lead to an answer?

With the opening  we know something awful will happen. There is one great quote which I simply have to share that captures the tone of the novel:
"I'm talking about kids, Mrs. H. Terrible, dreadful, blasted awful kids. They've all got a darkness inside them. They've all got the capacity for evil. Give them free range over a piece of territory, like that out there, and you’ve got Lord of the Flies. You cannot afford to take your eye off the ball for a second. Not for even a second...."

This quote captures the feeling of the novel perfectly. The children and very young teens are allowed much more freedom to run around and do as they please. The garden, surrounded by their neighborhood, has apparently left the residents, adults and children, with a false sense of security. The suspect isn't cut and dried; there are multiple suspects.

Excellent writing combined with anticipation of forthcoming answers and a gradual increase of tension as more and more of the story is told make this a worthy page turner.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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