30 January 2008
Dead mothers are always a good plot device. There is nothing like the absence of a mother to create a suitable amount of angst, heartache, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Think of the Alice books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, where the first couple of books in the series are driven by the fact that pre-teen Alice is growing up without a mother, surrounded by men in her family, and suffers the nagging fear that she is not approaching the formative years of her life with due female influence. And more recently we have had the mother-less Bee from Being Bee, and Jack from The Night Tourist. Now there is Evie Adler in K.L. Going's The Garden of Eve. Her mother is ten months dead from cancer, and Evie is left with her botanist father who has never appreciated--or even understood--magic the way her mother did. He is too much of a scientist to put much stock in fairy tales, or stories in general. When he takes on the job of trying to revive a dead apple orchard in Beaumont, New York, far from their Michigan home, Evie is resentful. They move into a house right next door to a cemetery--but the only cemetery Evie cares about is the one back in Michigan, where her mother is buried. Her father devotes his time to the orchard--but all Evie can think of is the magic garden she used to plan with her mother, a perfect garden with magnificent trees and noble beasts where the three of them would always be together. When Evie is given a seed supposedly from the Garden of Eden, Evie thinks she has her chance to find that perfect garden, and consequently find her mother, too.
There is a lot going on in this book, some of it allegorical and some of it just old fashioned mystery. There is the boy Alex, whom Evie meets hanging around in the cemetery. Is he really dead, as he claims to be? Is the orchard where Evie's father toils really cursed, or has it simply been abandoned? When Evie plants her seed and enters the magical garden--by way of eating an apple, of course!--is she in Eden or is it a trap? There is another Eve who grew up in Beaumont and disappeared many, many years ago. What happened to her? And will Evie find peace after the death of her mother?
Some of the pieces in the book are tied together a little bit too neatly, but for the most part this is an engaging and thoughtful book. Evie is disillusioned without being broken. The father is pragmatically devoted to his work but all open-hearted and open-minded business when Evie needs him most. The supporting characters range from saintly (the dead mother)to utterly convincing (Alex). Readers who like their books with magic and symbolism will enjoy this.