Genre: Children's Fiction, Early 1900's, Mental Illness, Coming of Age
Reading Challenges: 18 for 100+ in 2009
The Locked Garden is set in the year 1900, and is primarily the story of two sisters: Verna, age 12, and Carlie, age 6. After the recent death of their mother, the girls move with their father, who is a physician, to a new home located on the grounds of an insane asylum where he will be given the opportunity to test his theories of treating mental illness with medication. Joining the family in their journey is Aunt Maude, their maternal aunt, who seems determined to constantly remind the children and their father of the recent loss they have suffered in an effort to keep the memory of her sister alive. Shortly after starting life in their new home, their father hires a young patient, Eleanor, to assist in the care of Verna and Carlie. Eleanor's arrival changes everything, and soon Verna and Carlie find themselves at odds with both their father and their aunt as they try to ensure that Eleanor will remain one of the family.
This was an enjoyable read, which at times reminded me of Sarah, Plain and Tall. I found the understanding and treatment of mental illness at the time of the novel to be especially interesting. The book certainly didn't feel like a history lesson, but I felt that I learned a lot during the course of my reading. This book would be a perfect introduction to helping children have an understanding of the concepts of mental illness and depression. I can picture myself someday reading it to my own children when they are older so that we can have a discussion about what mental illness is, and how such illnesses are treated today versus in the past. The book also deals with death and grieving, although this is certainly a minor focus of the book. I am mentioning it because I really appreciated Whelan's handling of this topic.
The story itself is very fast paced. I found this to be a quick read. I was able to finish it in an afternoon. The target age group is 8-12, or grades 3-7, and I feel that this book was perfectly suited to this audience. The only reason I can't give this book a higher rating is because of the abrupt ending. I really felt that the story came to a screeching halt just as I was bracing for the climax. Perhaps this is because Whelan is planning to write a sequel, but I just found myself shocked that this book was actually over.
I would like to thank Harper Collins for generously providing me a review copy. Whelan is a great writer, and this isn't the first novel of hers that I have read. It certainly won't be my last.
I would love to giveaway my advanced review copy to a lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment below. Extra entries can be earned by subscribing, following, or posting this giveaway on your blog. Please leave me a way to contact you, as well as a link to your blog so I can see the posting. The contest starts today, and will end next Sunday, May 17th. I will announce the winners on the blog, and will also contact them via email. Please, only enter if you have a US or Canada mailing address.