June 07, 2014

The Night Gardener

Written by Jonathan Auxier
384 pp.
Ages 10+
May, 2014

Something wicked this way comes, and it's Jonathan Auxier's second book, The Night Gardener. Not a story for the faint of heart, it's fortunate that our narrators are the bold Molly and her younger brother Kip who learn all about what goes Thump, Thump, Thump in the night.

At fourteen, Molly is taking care of her crippled, ten-year-old brother whilst their parents are travelling to the New World to make a new life for them after the Irish potato famine drove them from their homeland. A born storyteller, she uses stories to distract, console, explain and protect her brother as they make their way to a posting at the home of Master Bernard Windsor, his wife Mistress Constance, and their children Alistair and Penny. Forewarned by locals of the sour woods and a mysterious family history, the two are still surprised by two ominous circumstances. First, a giant tree adjacent to the manor has breached the house via its trunk, branches and roots. Secondly, based on a large family portrait of the Windsors, it seems all four members of the Windsor family have succumbed to an illness that has paled their skin, dulled their hair and generally weakened them.

While Molly is diligent about taking care of her brother and acting as both sister and parent, she is very observant of the secretive Windsors and their manor. She notices discreet visits by the Master and Mistress through a locked green door, listens to Penny's admissions of a night man who leaves muddy footprints, and deals with her own alarming nightmares. But once Kip witnesses the same night man, Molly investigates the noises, wind and leaves that appear, and the shadows that haunt the house, as terrifying as they are.

She wiped the perspiration from her palm and adjusted her grip on the candlestick. "Master Windsor, is that you?" she said as bravely as she could.
The footsteps stopped.
The wind stopped.
Her heart stopped.
(pg. 74) 

The secret of that green-doored room, the night visitor, and the diminishing health of the Windsors and then Molly as well are woven with wishes and dreams and haunting supernatural elements. Jonathan Auxier blends the innocence of the poor and orphaned children (Molly and Kip) with the suspicious activities of the wealthy Windsors to tell a story based on the paradox of being careful what you wish. The Night Gardener is the grim reality of those wishes and Jonathan Auxier's darkly atmospheric writing will lead readers with trepidation into the sour woods and within grasp of the far-reaching tentacles of a frightening entity that exploits wishes. But I suspect that Jonathan Auxier's purpose is not to frighten (though he is very good at that) but to help, just as Molly admits in her differentiation between storytelling and telling lies:
"A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide." (pg. 288) 
Like Jonathan Auxier, Molly is a bonafide storyteller, but she needs her encounters with the night gardener to recognize the need for honesty, even if it makes for an unnerving tale. But making a reader uncomfortable is a sure sign that the storyteller has made a connection and created an opportunity for learning, whether it be for Molly, Kip or the reader of The Night Gardener. Something to ponder as you wait for your heart to stop racing.
The Night Gardener   The Night Gardener   The Night Gardener

I'm sorry that, because of this tardy review, I missed the launch (on May 31, 2014) of The Night Gardener as announced on Jonathan Auxier's website at http://www.thescop.com/. But don't let that stop you from checking out his website that includes his bio, videos, and other scoops from this scop.

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