Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Night Gardener Review

The Night Gardener

Book talk:
"On this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths."

When the Great Famine drives them out of Ireland and separates them from their parents, Molly and Kip are forced to take whatever work they can find.  At first Molly is relieved to find a placement for both of them at a house in the English countryside.  But her relief quickly turns to suspicion when the locals refuse to point her in the direction of the sourwoods where the mansion is located.  From the moment Molly lays eyes on the estate where she is to live and work she can tell that something isn't right:

"At the far end of the lawn stood the Windsor mansion. The house had obviously been left vacant for some years, and in that time it seemed to have become one with the landscape. Weeds swallowed the base. Ivy choked the walls and windows. The roof was sagging and covered in black moss. But strangest of all was the tree. The tree was enormous and looked very, very old. Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surroundings. This one did not. Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy. This one did not. Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk. This one did not. To stand in the shadow of this tree was to feel a chill run through your whole body."

Soon Molly learns of the strange visitor that always comes at night and leaves muddy footprints behind.  She can tell that the family who lives there knows more about it than they let on, but stranded in the countryside with her brother and nowhere else to go she has little choice but to stay or face homelessness and starvation.  As she uncovers more of the mansion's secrets she starts to think that no home would be far better than one haunted by the Night Gardener--if only she can make it out alive.  

This book is deliciously atmospheric in the style of the very best Gothic literature.  Everything is a little off from the beginning and the sense of unease grows steadily as the story progresses.  The final reveal of what holds the family in thrall to the Night Gardener and keeps them there is insidious and brilliant not to mention an excellent moral.  On top of all the top notch fantastic elements it's a great work of historical fiction.  The author explains in a note at the end that he is married to a Victorian scholar which means he spends a lot of time "learning interesting facts about the nineteenth century--and by interesting I mean horrifying."  He finds great ways to work these real-life horrifying facts in among all the fantasy horror elements.

Molly is a first rate protagonist both in her bravery and in her story-telling abilities.  A lot of the book deals with this issue of how to tell a good story and the difference between fiction and lies.  There's even a character who makes her living as a storyteller.  Auxier himself choose his words carefully and is great at weaving truths and lessons into his fiction, for example Kip uses a crutch which his Dad names Courage  "saying that all good tools deserved a good title. Kip had always liked the idea that courage was a thing a person could hold on to and use.”

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to students looking for a good scary story and aspiring storytellers.  Obviously some kids can handle horror better than others but for students that like to be frightened I'd say it's fine for 4th grade and up.

Themes, Topics, & Trends: Victorian Era, Great Famine, Horror, Stories and Storytellers, Greed, Dark, Atmospheric, Diversity (physical ability)


You can find a soundtrack for the book over at Jonathan Auxier's site

Bonus Quotes:

"A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. it helps you to hide."

"It’s a bad tale that tells all the answers."

“Stories come in all different kinds...There's tales, which are light and fluffy. Good for a smile on a sad day. Then you got yarns, which are showy--yarns reveal more about the teller than the story. After that there's myths, which are stories made up by whole groups of people. And last of all, there's legends...Legends are different from the rest on account no one knows where they start. Folks don't tell legends; they repeat them. Over and over again through history.”

Source: ebook from public library

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier: buy it or check it out today!

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