By Ekta R. Garg
May 17, 2017
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Release date: May 2, 2017
Rated: Bordering on Bookmark it / 3.5 stars
A young widow takes a gardening class with her sister and children to do research for work. As she gets to know the other students and the teacher, the widow must decide whether she’s ready to make room for someone new in her life. Author Abbi Waxman offers readers this gentle storyline in the quiet novel The Garden of Small Beginnings.
After more than three years, Lilian Girvan can finally say she’s in a comfortable place in her life. Despite losing her husband in a horrific car accident and suffering a nervous breakdown right after his death, Lilian feels more or less in control. She’s holding down a good job as a book illustrator, and she can get her two young daughters to school every morning without a lot of kid drama from either of them. Her younger sister, Rachel, manages an active social life and yet puts Lilian and the girls first, always. All in all, Lilian doesn’t think anything needs to change.
Rachel disagrees, wholeheartedly. She wants to see Lilian happy again, although Lilian doesn’t understand what about her life makes Rachel think she’s unhappy. True, she doesn’t have a love life, but Lilian loves Dan, her late husband. It feels like she always has, and she probably always will.
Lack of romance notwithstanding, there are plenty of changes at work for Lilian. Her company has received a major project: creating the illustrations for a vegetable encyclopedia. In a deal with the Bloem family, the incredibly wealthy people sponsoring the encyclopedia, Lilian’s boss has signed Lilian up for a six-week gardening class taught by one of the family members. Lilian hems and haws, but when her boss says it’s okay for the girls and Rachel to tag along Lilian runs out of excuses. They roll out of bed the following Saturday and get ready to dig around in the dirt.
Edward Bloem, the gardening teacher, is nothing like Lilian pictured. She never imagined someone so attractive and genteel could agree to get his hands into the dirt with the soil and the worms. The other students, too, don’t fulfill any of the first impressions Lilian forms about them. As they all spend more and more time under Edward’s tutelage, the friendships they form will teach Lilian about the value of love and its utter necessity—even when she thinks she isn’t ready for it.
Author Abbi Waxman creates instantly likeable characters in both Lilian and Rachel. Lilian’s wry sense of humor and incredible self-awareness will make readers laugh out loud in several spots. Waxman also doesn’t hesitate to pin grief and loss down with sharp tacks. She doesn’t use esoteric, poetic phrases to give Lilian an easy way out of a difficult situation. Instead, Waxman drives right to the heart of the issue in turn endearing Lilian that much more to the readers.
A few of the metaphors may feel a tad forced, but in those instances Rachel steps in to offer the scene some much needed levity. These sisters, unlike so many in other contemporary books, love one another; they support one another. They bicker about issues as siblings are wont to do, but they never lose sight of their relationship. Waxman’s choice to make the sisters’ relationship a cornerstone for them both anchors the book in a refreshing way.
The book does follow a few stereotypes: the neglectful mother, the California surfer-turned-genius, the quiet, understanding suitor. An Italian can’t help himself around beautiful, available women, In her capable hands, however, Waxman’s characters, even the stereotypical ones, offer readers plenty of choices for friends.
If the novel has any “failing,” it comes in the form of a lack of any measurable outward conflict. Most of the tension and conflict stem from Lilian herself. Her family relationships are solid, she meets new friends who support her, and trouble at the office gets sorted out in a quiet way. Readers may or may not like the lack of the tornado-force winds that seem to blow through other novels. It’s refreshing and disconcerting all at the same time.
For this reason, I recommend that The Garden of Small Beginnings Borders on Bookmarking it.