A few years ago, Jonathan Auxier burst onto the scene with his middle-grade novel Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, about a blind orphan who becomes the world’s greatest thief. Well, “burst onto the scene” is probably not quite appropriate, since Auxier is Canadian–it’s more like he waited his turn, politely made his way onto the scene, and then wowed everyone with his yo-yo tricks. This month he’s publishing his second book, The Night Gardener, and he’s ratcheted up the spookiness a couple notches.
Set during the time of the Irish potato famine, The Night Gardener relates the tale of Molly and Kip, two Irish orphans who find their way to England, hoping to find work. They end up at a bizarre manor house, which has an ominous-looking tree growing up against it–and even through it, and there are strange things afoot. That’s about all I’d want to share without giving away too many other plot points.
It’s a creepy, spine-tingling sort of tale, and although it’s intended for kids I can imagine that more sensitive kids may get spooked by it. I remember reading a lot of John Bellairs when I was in sixth grade and Ray Bradbury in junior high–stories that would give me shivers and made me want to go turn on all the lights around the house. The Night Gardener is that sort of book; it didn’t frighten me quite as much as those books did then, but that’s probably mostly because I’m older now. I’m sure middle-school me would have been flipping light switches halfway through this book, too.
Molly and Kip are fantastic characters. Molly is a natural-born storyteller; she uses her golden tongue to talk herself out of trouble and into a job–it can be both a weapon and a shield. Throughout the book, you really get a sense of the power of storytelling, both through Molly and another character named Hester Kettle, who is a wandering storyteller.
Kip is a little younger than Molly, but he understands more than Molly appreciates. He has a bad leg, but he gets by with a crutch named Courage given to him by his father. The wealthy family they serve looks down on him because he’s lame, but his inner strength and resolve play an important role.
Unlike Peter Nimble, which had a more whimsical narrator, The Night Gardener uses a more straightforward narrative voice. It’s a third-person voice, but the chapters do alternate between following Molly and Kip, giving us a little more insight into what’s going on inside their heads without speaking directly with their voices. As much as I liked the narrator in Peter Nimble, I could tell that he would have been a little out of place here.
If you (or your middle-grade kid) like spooky stories, put The Night Gardener on your list. What I like is that it isn’t just about chills and thrills, but also has some great things to say about story and duty and family. The book hits stores tomorrow, or you can pre-order online now.
For more, check out my interview with Jonathan Auxier. Or, if you’re a writer, read his great “After the Book Deal” series of posts from last month, dealing with topics like how to deal with no-shows at an event, wrestling with envy, and when to get a headshot.
Disclosure: GeekDad received an advance reader copy of The Night Gardener for review.