Monday, April 23, 2018

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Recommended Ages: 12+

After The Whispering Skull, this was only the second book by an author named Jonathan about an object that offers people their heart's desire and then kills them, that I read in a single weekend. The legend of the Night Gardener, told by an old storyteller to the pair of Irish siblings at the center of this book, is a bit magical and a bit sad. The reality, as Molly and Kip experience it, is a good deal more terrifying. Desperation leads the pair to enter the service of a financially troubled family that lives in a place called the sourwoods, which folks in the neighborhood consider to be cursed. Their home is a mansion with a huge, sinister tree growing out of one wall, tended by a mysterious, top-hat-wearing figure who roams the house at night, leaving muddy footprints.

Something is preying on the minds and bodies of the Windsor family, and soon it starts to work on Molly, too. The house, or perhaps the tree, or perhaps it is the night man, gives each member of the household something that they would never be without, keeping them effectively caught in its trap while the life drains out of them. It's an evil thing that is hard to resist and even harder to destroy. Saving the family, if they can be saved, depends largely on a lame little boy learning to stand on his own, without magic, without a crutch, and perhaps even without being able to rely on his sister.

Besides being a legit chiller, this book also opens a view on the period of Ireland's Great Hunger (1845-49) and the prejudiced attitudes and behavior of the English toward the Irish during that desperate time. It draws a touching sketch of courage, family love, and perhaps on a between-the-lines level, the horror of being trapped by a heart's desire that is killing you - such as, for instance, an addiction. It is scary in a folkloric way, which I think outscares even a present-day ghost story like Jonathan Stroud's "Lockwood & Co." thrillers. With even more going on than this brief synopsis can hint at, it's a fully satisfying story for young readers that, believe me, can give a grown-up the heebie-jeebies.

Auxier is the author of two delightful "Peter Nimble Adventures" - Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes and Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. His next book, due to be released in September 2018, is Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster.

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