Garden of Angels
Delacorte Press, May, 2003.
Hardcover, 272 pages.
Ages 12 and up
Lurlene McDaniel has specialized in writing hard-hitting but inspirational novels about teenagers that have been widely praised by teachers, librarians, as well as teenagers. Garden of Angels is her newest novel, and in it she takes on the ravages that breast cancer in a young mother can inflict on the entire family. Since this savage disease has attacked many women and their families, this story should touch many a reader.
In the calm before the storm, teenager Darcy Quinlen, fourteen years old and a good student is mainly interested in keeping up her school assignments and making social plans with her best friend. Her mother and father are going to drive to Atlanta so that Mrs. Quinlin can have some "tests." Darcy feels uneasy, buy she does not yet know about the storm that is coming. Darcy is mainly concerned with keeping up with the homework in her accelerated classes and keeping out of the way of her older sister who is a local beauty, but hardly a supportive and caring sister.
The Quinlin family lives in Conners, Alabama, a small town outside of Atllanta. Readers who have grown up in the South will recognize all that being Southern means. The traditions, the food, the importance of being good at gardening as well as belonging to the Baptist Church all form a powerful network of relationships and expectations.
Set in the 1970s, Garden of Angels touches on the problems of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon's presidency, and the deep dark secret of cancer that families kept to themselves as long as they could. Although chemotherapy and radiation were available, women were still subjected to the radical mastectomies that increased their suffering so much more. Detection was more likely to be late rather than early, even though the technology of mammograms was available. Places to stay near a hospital were few and largely inadequate. All of this demanded superhuman heroism from the victims and their families. Although cancer still does all of the aforementioned things to victims and families, many improvements in care, surgery, and early detection have been made, and although no one wants to announce to the world that they have cancer, acceptance and knowledge have made the trauma somewhat easier to bear.
After her family and religion her garden is the most important thing to Joy Leigh Donaldson Quinlin. She is president of the Garden Club, and her garden is famous for miles around. She knows the names of all the plants, both common and scientific. Darcy sometimes follows her mother into the garden to work alongside her, and it is Darcy who takes over the garden when her mother becomes ill. Flowers from the garden are brought into the house and on visits to her mother in the hospital. Somehow important things are said in the garden. Darcy overhears her mother talking to a supportive friend and realizes just how ill her mother is. Darcy also has her first kiss from Jason, the darkly mysterious younger brother of a friend who has come down from Chicago to finish his senior year in Connors because of some "trouble" at home.
Garden of Angels does not try to soften the agony of cancer. It shows how families can survive and go on through the sadness. What each character does with their grief is positive and rewarding. Garden of Angels is a hard hitting and truthful story that does neither succumbs to or ignores heartache.
--Sarah Reaves White
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