The Night Gardener, Elevation
From the opening paragraphs of this novel, you should feel a sense of an eerie-yet-comfortable setting, the likes of which Little Red Riding Hood might come skipping through. From the jump, you can easily picture yourself in the main character’s shoes. You're young and in the deep, deep woods with your devoted horse, a wobbly wagon, and your sibling. Something about the wind in your hair feels sinister but you keep to your set path. What choice do you have? You're traveling toward your new life. You should just put those pestering negative thoughts out of your head. There's no such thing as evil spirits, right? Right?
An old crone appears before you and you stop to talk. She's weird. She's telling stories (something you enjoy doing yourself) but she does it in a way that makes you sort of nervous. Maybe just placate her and get moving as soon as you can. Although she seems pretty insistent that you stay away from where you're headed. She's telling you these woods are haunted, in a manner of speaking. Is she just trying to scare you? If so, is it working? No, you're not scared. It's just a crazy old lady in the woods. What harm can she do?
Well, I'll tell you what, that wandering witch character is responsible for one of only two minor issues I have with the story. She was fine in this opening scene but when she returned, near the end of the book, the closeness the children felt toward her seemed to come out of left field. I get that they would be grateful for her help, but it seems to me their instant love and devotion to her is a tad undeserved.
But it's a long journey from here to there. In the meantime, you have to arrive at the weird house in the woods with the enormous tree growing from the inside out. You have to meet the somewhat peculiar family you'll be working for and learn their secrets. Oh yeah, and there's also the issue of the devilish figure who appears in the night to water and tend to the tree. Begin the waking nightmare.
For as scary as this story is, I was as impressed with the courage portrayed by the young protagonists. When faced with a situation that would surely have me crying and screaming myself into oblivion, these youngsters face up to the paranormal challenge again and again. It is thrilling to watch them as they discover and overcome their fears – fears embodied in true memories that have little to do with the Night Gardener himself.
There is a shroud of mystery surrounding their past. As is the case in much lit for young adults, our heroes' parents have suffered some unfortunate fate. We don't learn the true story until the end but it is a driving force that keeps the narrative going all the way. And it is one that is peppered thoroughly, making you well invested in their hidden background.
I mentioned that there were only two flaws with this novel and now that I've re-read that claim, I can't imagine what the second one was! So sorry. That said though, it could not have been worth mentioning and certainly no reason to pass on reading this fine story.
All the characters are well-developed – I could easily pick each one out of a line up if I had to. That's sort of an odd thing to say but I've read plenty of books in my life where the secondary characters were about as forgettable as the second minor flaw of this novel. Dang, what was it? Oh well.
I know this wasn't what I was thinking of, but it's something: On Amazon, The Night Gardener is marked as a book for Grades 3-7. Hmm. If pressed, I would say that maybe it's a bit too scary for a third grader. I'd feel more comfortable holding off putting this in my kid's hands til Grade 5. But then again, what am I even talking about? There's much scarier stuff out there in entertainment, media, and especially the news. I suppose this book pales in comparison. Just a note to parents on the fence, you have been warned. The Night Gardener may bring nightmares. I'm a little surprised I haven't suffered any yet.
Great book! Loved it! It lived up to my every expectation.
For such a tiny book, you'd think Elevation would have been able to read it faster. But no, I have kids. So there's that.
I finally had a couple hours to myself today (while they napped) to read Mr. King's latest novella. I haven't read the cover close enough, but it's probably a good guess that his publisher wants to call this a novel. No way, Jose. It's a novella through and through. The price, as stated on the back of the hard cover, was $19.95. God bless Santa. As much as I Love (with a capital L) SK, I never would have paid that amount for this book that is as light as its content. But wait! That's actually a compliment.
This story is great. It has an effervescent feel that carries you away, as the title would suggest. it doesn't happen right away, but about midway through, you start to feel it. And that is what I consider an achievement.
There are no monsters here. Just ordinary people living their ordinary lives. Well, Scott's life becomes pretty extraordinary right away but not in the horrific Stephen King way we are all accustomed to.
Putting Scott's curious medical condition aside, it's almost as if he is chasing his own inner goodness. He wants to locate where his best self is and mold it into something that resembles not only empathy but an embodiment of friendship. His mission to help two neighbors in town is nothing but genuine and heartfelt. That is the crux of the story and it works.
For any readers/runners out there, you will certainly enjoy a well-crafted chapter that takes place in the town's 12K. I sweated and rejoiced along with Scott, even though he had quite an unfair advantage, if you ask me.
If you want a reader's/runner's high, you can never go wrong with Stephen King. This book is no exception, as long as you can foot the bill or find it in your local library or friend's bookshelf.
It will be half an afternoon well spent.