In between getting ready for school, planning and executing a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend, and trying to keep my yard and house clean (not winning that battle), I've managed to start quite a few books, but only finished this one. It was the perfect book to end my summer and begin a new season.
The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen is sure to appeal to anyone who loves Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, and anyone who loves a bit of magical realism tossed into a story. I'm a firm believer in magic and the wonderful, quirky way things can manifest in our lives. Sometimes there is no explanation, it just is.
Olivia Pennywort lives in New York state, in the wonderful Green Valley. Her farm is known around those parts as a place where a person can go, wander the maze, and find the answer to life's most important question: what do I do with my life? Sometimes it can take time to receive the answer; for that reason Olivia provides a barn where women can stay, work the gardens, and await their answer. They come and go every year and always leave at peace. Olivia's magic touch with plants of any kind is legendary; she grows flowers and vegetables when the whole valley is undergoing a horrible drought and heat wave.
But Olivia has a secret: she is poisonous to the touch. Anyone who touches her (or whom she touches) breaks out into a horrible poison ivy rash. She's kept to herself on Pennywort Farm, working every day on her gardens. No one knows her secret, except for her father, Arthur. He lives in a ravine on the farm, in a little shack. He refuses to move back into the farmhouse, and Olivia visits him every day with food and conversation. Both are not happy with life, but aware that what they have is all they can ever hope for and expect out of life.
Sam Van Winkle comes back to town, and stirs Olivia out of her prison. Years before, Sam and Olivia were childhood friends who fell in love as teens. Sam left town when Olivia broke off their relationship with no explanation. He tried to find life away from Green Valley, but realized it called to him and was where he needed to be. Now a police officer, he has to live up to the Van Winkle reputation of being a "hero". He doesn't feel very hero-like.
Sam, Olivia, and Arthur are all damaged by the past. Are they courageous enough to take the steps to be happy? Can Sam and Olivia have a normal life together when physical touch is impossible? And what of the secret garden locked up in the middle of the maze?
Love is a powerful emotion, and can make anything possible. Forgiveness, passion, loving someone wholeheartedly and without reservation; those are all themes in this novel. Living in the midst of beauty while feeling empty and alone and unable to move forward into the richness of life. It's all here, in The Night Garden.
Rating: 7/10 for lush descriptions of gardens, flowers, and nature. An unusual love story, and a main character who fights for love.
Available in October in paperback and e-book.