Gillian Murray Kendall’s The Garden of Darkness blooms with subtlety. This post-apocalyptic young adult novel is like a little plot of land: you till in early Spring, plant your seeds and sit back to watch it grow. In an age where these end of the world novels are shooting up like weeds, Garden blossoms and crowds out the others, soaking up the glory of the sun for itself. Sure you’ve got to water and weed it, but in the end, you’ve quite the bumper crop.
As an overburdened field suffers from loss of nutrients, we get your obligatory plague decimation—but there’s a twist: the Cure. Of course, if you happen to weather the plague and get said Cure, you’ve become a stark-raving lunatic, much creepier than being a zombie. If you’re a kid and haven’t yet succumbed to the plague, you now have to overcome the Cured and the day-to-day survival of a fallen world.
There’s a certain honesty here in the way different children handle their new-found lifestyles. It’s not just about missing their folks, it’s about how they deal. Our heroes are at times child-like, but not childish. The fact that survivors mentioned child services more than once was interesting, as were the way suicide and death in general. Much love to a character’s lethargy in response to basic hygiene. Too neat.
And although the main character wore her crush’s letterman jacket for the entirety of the novel, it acted as a tether to the former world, but not in a gooey, overly sentimental way. There is the slightest hint of love story taking place here, too, but it is deftly handled as mild flirtation. Without the pressures of societal norms and high school drama, it allows itself to develop naturally.
Character development is spot-on as more and more hangers-on are introduced into bands. They balance well, unlike typical adventure novels where particular characters have special skill sets. Here, they just are: kids will be kids. Even the behemoth of a dog, Bear, our main character befriends early in the story, isn’t used as an easy way out of harmful situations.
Two of the more stellar plot points to note:
Not giving anything away, but there’s a grown man who deems himself “master-of-the-situation” whom is gathering children to his aid. As the book progresses, his intentions become clearer and it is compelling to see his chapters interspersed amid the novel as a parallel to our roving band of children and teens.
There’s also an aside about halfway through highlighting characters which we’ll never get a chance to interact with. As a brief interlude it was captivating to read of their ill-fated exploits in comparison to our main characters.
The ending sneaks up on you, and it’s worrisome that loose ends won’t be tied up. It was, however, clear, concise and a quite sharp way of ending things. It is beautifully wrought, and won’t be tied up in another series where you get a book and movie deal.
And so we return to the garden aspect of this book. Its shooting tendrils sprout up time and again about the pages literally and figuratively looking for a way to grow amid the darkness. There is some good fruit here, and it should be eaten of heartily.