Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings

Title:  The Garden of Small Beginnings
Author:  Abbi Waxman
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0399583580 / 978-0399583582

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It's been more than three years since my husband died, yet in may ways he's more useful than ever."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm generally a grumpy, reclusive person on the inside, but sometimes on the outside I surprise myself with my friendliness."

This book starts off in a tragedy that happened about three years previously. Lilian's husband died in a car accident, leaving her in shock, heartbroken, and single parent to their two daughters. Lil has managed to keep her job and life together for her kids, but in many ways, life is frozen in that instant. Her younger daughter has very little if any memory of her father while, for her older daughter, no one will ever take her Daddy's place.

Lil finds herself unable to move forward either. She has the support of her family, her husband's family, and her friends. They supported her at the time of Dan's death, through her breakdown and hospitalization after, and ever since. Yet, ultimately, the grief seems hers alone. How to go on - at that moment, three years later, or ever?

As part of a work assignment, she is asked to attend a gardening class, taught by master gardner Edward Bloum, who is, as you might, guess eligible and handsome. The class also brings a new set of friends to Lil's life; each one has his or her own story. The story unfolds over the course of the six week class.

In between each chapter of the story are gardening tips, which are fun and sometimes funny to read but don't really flow with the rest of the book other than the fact that the book is set around a gardening class. Sections like "How to Grow Garlic" or "How to Grow Zucchini" are actual garden advice but not really relevant to the story going on in the book.

The story is sweet. Even with its sad premise, it has an uplifting message about finding the strength to move forward and about new beginnings. The planting of a garden is literal but also becomes, of course, a metaphor for new beginnings. You plant, you nurture, and then you watch it flourish.

Two reasons keep this book from a higher rating. First is the main character. It took a while, but then a character - Lil's sister Rachel - in the book articulates my thoughts. "... what about your martyr complex ... Poor Lilian, lost her husband, love of her life. Well, what about me I lost one of my best friends. What about the kids? They lost their dad. what about Maggie, eh? She ... lost her only brother. It's not all about you, and it's about time you realized that." Grief is never comparative, but grief is never one person's alone. The fact that this book is a first person narrative adds to that feeling of everything being Lil-centered, if you will.

The other reason is that the book is predictable. A sad beginning and a sad main character. An incorrigible sister who tells it like it is. A handsome new man. A small cast of characters, each with their own eccentricities. A common bond - in this case, a gardening class - that draws them together. New friends. New love. A gradual new beginning. Sweet but expected. I keep waiting for more and for something unexpected. Without that, it is ultimately forgettable but a sweet story for an afternoon.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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