Title: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?
On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?
Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes will be captivated by The Girls in the Garden, the next unforgettable novel by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell.
With an eclectic cast of characters, a unique setting and an unusual storyline, The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell is a spellbinding mystery.
On her own for the first time since she married, Clare Wild, along with her daughters, thirteen year old Grace and twelve year old Pip, move into an apartment that shares a sprawling communal outdoor space with their neighbors. While Grace makes fast friends with the rest of the teenagers in the park, Pip remains a little leery of her sister’s friends. In the meantime, Clare is dealing with a plethora of concerns about their new circumstances but she forms a tentative friendship with Adele and Leo Howes. The couple are the parents of her daughters’ new friends, Catkin, Fern and Willow, and while Clare does not spend a great of time with the family, she does agree to join them for the annual midsummer party. She quickly comes to regret this decision after Pip discovers Grace’s unconscious body later that evening. Clare cannot fathom who would want to hurt her daughter or why, but as young Pip has already discovered, there are plenty of dark secrets lurking within the close-knit community.
As Clare tries to come to terms with her new life, Pip and Grace are often left to their own devices. Although she is more safety conscious than her neighbors, the girls are often unsupervised for hours as they roam around the massive park that abuts their apartment. Even though she does not know Adele very well, she has no concern over the amount of time her daughters are spending with her family. Preoccupied with her own troubles, Clare is not aware of what Grace is up to when she is out from underneath her watchful eye and she allows her misbehavior to slide without comment.
Adele is an earth mother who homeschools her daughters and does not expect them conform to society’s expectations. She does not believe in traditional medicine and relies on homeopathic remedies to treat their illnesses. Adele is friendly with her neighbors and most of the community children freely walk in and out of her home at will. She is comfortable in the neighborhood and never feels a minute of worry about her daughters’ safety while they are out and about in the sprawling acreage. Adele’s marriage is quite happy although she is not exactly a fan of Leo’s father who is staying with them while recovering from surgery.
Pip is an pretty amazing young girl who is quite mature and wise beyond her years. She desperately misses her father but she understands why they cannot be together. Her sadness over their separation is slightly alleviated by her fascination with her new neighbors and her delight with the new apartment. Initially excited to be accepted into the tight circle of neighborhood friends, Pip quickly becomes uncomfortable in their company and she begins avoiding them. Once extremely close to Grace, the sisters soon drift apart after Grace forms a tight friendship with one of the neighborhood boys, Dylan. Pip becomes increasingly concerned about Grace when she starts staying out late and keeping secrets from both her and their mother.
The idyllic community is shattered by Grace’s attack and since they trust their neighbors implicitly, no one can figure out who would want to harm the young girl. While this is not the first time their peaceful life has been touched by tragedy, the earlier death is viewed as a tragic accident. However, Pip is quite intuitive and she has picked up on some troubling discord amongst Grace’s friends. Fern, Willow and Catkin are rather offbeat and extremely loyal to their lifelong friends but what reason would they have to hurt Grace? Grace’s boyfriend Dylan is well-liked by his peers and their parents but the same cannot be said for his childhood friend Tyler, a somewhat troubled young girl whose absentee mother also grew up in neighborhood. Evidence collected after Grace’s attack raises some very disturbing concerns and although everyone cooperates with the investigation, the police do not uncover any viable leads. Pip has a theory about what happened to Grace but will she find any information to support her suspicions?
Part mystery and part character study, The Girls in the Garden is a riveting novel that exposes the darker side of interconnected, longstanding friendships. Lisa Jewell’s descriptive prose brings the bucolic surroundings vibrantly to life and it is very easy to visualize the serene setting. The characters are multi-faceted and eerily life-like with relatable flaws and imperfections. The mystery surrounding Grace’s assault is quite suspenseful and it is virtually impossible to guess the perpetrator’s identity or motive for the attack until the novel’s dramatic conclusion. A incredibly fascinating mystery that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.