When I reviewed The House We Grew Up In by bestselling author Lisa Jewell, my review title included “Do All Families Have Secrets?” In that novel, she looked at hoarding and its effects on a family (review link at the end of this review).
Lisa has a talent for delving down below the surface of family life and exposing the deep underbelly of even the most seemingly “normal” family. She’s done it again with The Girls In The Garden, this time looking at what lies beyond a seemingly idyllic setting. From the first time I learned about London’s houses that backed onto gated gardens, I’ve been fascinated by them. How wonderful to have your own private secret garden…and it could be that fantasy of mine is a reality for most people who have them. Still, human nature is what it is and it isn’t always as benign as it appears from the outside. Sound interesting?
Clare Wild is so relieved to have found the flat on one of London’s private garden squares. She knows her daughters, Grace and Pip (ages 13 and 12 respectively), will love living there once they’ve given it a chance. It will give all of them a chance to recover and gain some much needed normalcy in their lives. Of course Pip and especially Grace are not happy about the move. They’ll miss their friends and are leery about making new ones, but then it’s always that way with a move, isn’t it? Clare knows they’ll fit right in once they get to know the kids who live in the square, and she believes the garden will help to heal their whole family.
The neighbors are very welcoming even though a lot of them have lived there for generations. Everyone on the square seems to be almost exactly the way Clare pictured them. Some of them have little quirks but then who doesn’t? Clare is relieved that Grace seems to bond pretty quickly with a few of the teens in the square. Pip is a little more cautious in making friends, which is normal for her, but she also doesn’t seem to think much of Grace’s new friends, which is unusual. Clare can’t figure out why Pip is so stand-offish toward Grace’s new friends and their parents, the Howes. The Howes’ three daughters seem to have brought Grace out of her shell, which is a relief.
Although Clare hasn’t spent much time with the Howes, she does agree to let her children join the other garden children for a midsummer’s tent party the Howes are hosting. It sounds like a wonderfully idyllic thing to do on a midsummer’s night, and just the idea makes her think she has been very fortunate to get to live here. She can’t understand why Pip is so reluctant to join the party. If only Clare had been paying better attention to her younger daughter’s misgivings…
The idyllic notion of this secret garden and its lovely inhabitants all falls apart when Pip discovers Grace’s unconscious body in the shrubbery late that night. And it becomes even more worrisome when Clare learns this is not the first time something like this has happened to a young girl in this garden. Surely it was some stranger who gained access to the garden.
Who would do something so horrible to a thirteen-year-old? How could this happen to Grace? Why her Grace? Clare is determined to learn what is going on and Pip is determined to avenge her sister…if only Clare had listened to Pip…
The characters in The Girls In The Garden are real people, so real that I kept expecting to see them out strolling along my little beach. Needless to say, that was a bit unsettling. All of the people in this novel have many layers no matter who they are. You may even recognize glimpses of people you’ve known in some of them…for better or worse. Why? Because no one is all good or all bad – we all have many layers. No one ever thinks they’re a villain. It’s that quality that makes Lisa’s characters even more chilling. We all want to think bad things must have been done by a stranger because we can’t bear to think it could be someone we know, someone we trust…but those of us who’ve learned that isn’t true the hard way know having those kinds of blinders on can lead only to heartbreak.
Lisa Jewell exposes the underbelly of “normal” family life, and she does it brilliantly. She has a talent for illustrating aspects of life that we don’t discuss and think could never happen to us, and she does it in a way that we can face it and look at it safely. The Girls In The Garden is masterfully written. It made me squirm in places but it would not have done its job if it had not. I applaud her for another insightful novel and one hell of a read. It kept me turning pages long into the night. If you’re looking for a dark beach read – or a read for any time of the year – I’m recommending this one.
Can’t wait to read it? The Girls In The Garden is available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can have it to read asap!
I’d love to get your comments on The Girls In The Garden, Lisa Jewell and/or her other work, and/or this review! To read our review of The House We Grew Up In, click here.