by Kristen Randle
Ponymoon Press, 2012. 312 pgs. Young Adult
"The gardener came with the house." And the house is in New England, on the coast, a large and lovely old home overlooking the ocean, and surrounded by an acre of forest. Despite the beauty, Renny wishes her family could have stayed where they were--with her friends, with a spot on the yearbook staff for the coming year, in familiar surroundings. Worried about making friends in a new place, Renny is sort of glad when Mrs. Girbaud, the school counselor, sends a young man over to show her around the town; not so glad when the young man makes a heavy duty move on her and she has to fight her way out of his car to escape. But soon she makes good friends--real friends--though ominous happenings around her home keep her on edge. There are footprints in the flower beds under the windows, the gate hanging open when Renny knows it was secured. Even more frightening are Mrs. Girbaud and her brother the Coach. Their relentless pressure on Renny and others of her friends to leave their "loser" crowd and join the "in" group is creepy. An extraordinary storm at the end of the book lays all things bare, bringing the book to a satisfying though bittersweet end. But through it all there is the gardener, who cares for the grounds and the home, who nurtures flowers, food, and children, who guards and guides without guile or self-interest. The Gardener is by way of being a Christian allegory, the message clear but the correspondences subtle. There is so much good in these young people and their families, refreshingly loving and concerned parents (so rare in contemporary Young Adult fiction), and most of all, kindness and care. Kristen Randle's prose is vivid, colloquial but never condescending, full of life, as one might expect from the author of the much-honored The Only Alien on the Planet. A fine, fine book for teenagers and their significant elders.