Published by Ravenstone on June 24, 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Their families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as Pest, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem, an unlikely pair, are thrown together and realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure.A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that — to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.
Or does this adult have something else in mind?
Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the grownup they believe holds the cure. Their only weapon is Clare’s dog, Bear.
But Clare and Jem, as well as their followers, are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world had become suspect—the love of diseased adults, alliances, trust, hope. As Clare and Jem learn to stitch wounds, skin deer and survive in the ashes of the old world perhaps it is no surprise that they begin to find that friendship is as redemptive as anything they seek—that friendship has its own kind of healing power. And, at the end of their journey, in the face of the ultimate betrayal, they discover that out of friendship can come love.
Sometimes when I finish a book, I feel … gutted. In a good way. I’m sad that I finished the book. I’m sad that I won’t get to spend any more time with the characters, watching them explore their world and grow in the process. I’m sad that my adventure in reading the book is over. I find it hard to start another book, because I’m still thinking about the book I just finished.
THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS made me feel that way. This book got to me. That’s hard for a post-apocalyptic/dystopian book to do, because I’ve read a ton in the genres, almost to the point where they’re all the same. To a degree, THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is like a lot of what’s out there: all adults are killed by a mysterious disease leaving the world full of kids. Some kids band together, some go it alone, some live, some die. There’s usually someone smart who takes advantage of the chaos to create their own castle and rule like a king. And so on.
All of that, and darker, is in this book. But what’s different about THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is how it’s written and the characters. Instead of employing the usual first-person point of view that’s common, the author tells the story in third-person. This sort of keeps you from the full emotional impact of the known world ending, but then the little things really pop up and sucker punch you. Like when Clare realizes there probably won’t be any new books written for a very, very long time. The author also sometimes gives hints as to when something really bad is going to happen, which got me. For example, saying that if Clare knew what was going to happen next, she would have enjoyed X moment of happiness. This tactic had me trying to flip ahead so I could find out right away what would happen, which is hard to do when you’re reading an e-book.
The characters and the relationships they form are another great part of this book. I’m always critical of romantic relationships (and they usually don’t work for me), so it’s super refreshing to see friendship be so important. I think one of the themes of THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is the family you choose. Clare nearly loses herself after her parents die from Pest, but when she meets Jem, Mirri, and Sarai, she has a new reason to live. And all of the characters were so distinct, so alive. Not just the main four, but all of them, from the gang of city kids to Ramah and Bird Boy. I could have read a lot more about every one of them.
For the first third or so of the book, I wanted THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS to move faster. It’s somewhat slow at the beginning, setting up Pest, then following Clare’s depression after her parents’ death. But as I got further in, I started to enjoy the slow pace. The book does pick up after Clare meets those who will become her family. The action builds from there, to a showdown with a creepy villain. I rather liked that part, though it’s hard to say why without spoiling everything. Let’s just say the author doesn’t take the usual route, and I enjoyed that.
THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS breathes fresh light into the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genres, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a new twist on the same old. Oh, I forgot to mention one more good thing — this book is a standalone!
About the author:
Gillian Murray Kendall is a American author and a Professor of English literature at Smith College. A specialist in Shakespeare and English Renaissance drama, and a graduate of Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program, she teaches a course on the post-apocalyptic novel as well as on topics in Renaissance literature. Kendall is the author of articles, short stories and a book of essays.