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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Gardener (ARC) by S. A. Bodeen

Title: The Gardener
Author: S. A. Bodeen
Reviewed Format: Advance Reading Copy provided by the publisher
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Pages: 240

S. A. Bodeen’s The Gardener is a frightening glimpse into a world desperate to adapt to a life without food.  Food as we know it will become scarce; modern production and packaging lines will feel the stress of a population that outgrows manufactured and ready-to-buy products.  Overpopulation specialists speculate on the need to return to self-farming and whether humans will ever be able to adapt as a species without intervention.  Bodeen’s premise raises questions of population, ethics, and genetic manipulation, but in truth provides only a surface examination of those issues.

The main character, Mason--or Mace as his friends refer to him--is young. His off-beat dialogue often contradicts his mature behavior, but it reminds us of how tenuous adolescence is.  We are frequently told his love of heroics is more of a compulsion; Mason can’t resist helping other people--something we are initially forced to take at face value as part of his character.  This habit proves no different when he meets a strange and distressed girl with almost paralyzing fear of someone she calls the Gardener.

The time frame became a concern when I considered the amount of information and events crammed into the better part of just one day: his mother’s drunk enough she can’t drive home, but sobers within an hour or two to work in a nursing home; a girl borders on comatose, but awakens and throws Mason (well over 6 feet tall, 200+ pounds of muscle) over walls he can’t jump himself; there’s a drive to Portland for a book signing; a snow mobile accident; the list goes on. Not to mention the intense relationship he develops with the girl.  And Mason barely questions his involvement.  To be fair, he takes everything in such marvelous stride until the end of the book--I don’t know how I would react if I were given the same choices. He has some base instincts that kick in and allow him to do whatever it takes to protect a girl he’s only just met--and he doesn’t even know her name.  It still felt as if there was too much that happened, or too much that needed to happen in a short about of time and darned if Bodeen wasn’t going to make it happen.

Whatever whimsical adventure, however dark, could come of this was a bit too fantastical and unbelievable for me. I do think if I were younger, it would be appealing. What younger reader wouldn’t be enchanted by a dangerous adventure to save the Sleeping Beauty and take down the Evil Witch and her Castle all because they offered to help?  It’s a grim fairy tale our protagonist is a part of, one that I think is better suited for MG than YA readers.

The writing is very accessible, but at times failed to fully attract my attention with a sparse exposition more conducive to action and suspense rather than an appreciation of this eerie future world we might imagine is not too far from our own.  I thought the science behind the experiment was vague, if imaginative.  If I was younger, it would be enough for me to know a problem exists and TroDyn (I would like to know if this name has any significance I am missing) is solving it, but doing some dangerous things in the process.  I was concerned more at the doomsday nuance to Dr. Emerson and Solomon’s dialogue. It was a bit outlandish in its immediacy, as if famine and pestilence are literally down the block and around the corner, next year rather than generations away.  I found that urgency distracting and disingenuous, if motivational to certain characters.

There isn’t too much character growth in The Gardener. It’s fast-paced and action-packed with little room for anything else.  The consequences are minimal; certain actions are condoned under the pretense of messy politics and preservation. No one is really punished.  Blameless they may not be, but certainly TroDyn’s actions betray that.  This may make the story more interesting (one character may “get away with it,” but it sets up tension for a possible sequel), but the evil characters were so obviously evil I couldn’t help wanting Bodeen to be rid of them.

I was disappointed the metaphor behind the butterfly tattoo was explained so openly.  The subtlety I’ve come to appreciate from certain literary devices was not here.  My personal preferences aside, the explanation is one that some readers might find helpful, even critical to understanding the nature of the experiment.  I could have done without it, had I been left to draw the appropriate connections myself.

Despite the action, I felt the suspense was a little lax.  I had the ending figured out the moment I read the jacket copy--before I even started reading the book. Though, I wonder if the point wasn’t to create such a dramatic reveal, but to set up the potential for a sequel. And the framework has been put in place for one.

Younger readers or dystopia fans who want a quicker read may appreciate The Gardener.  Although I felt the characters lacked a richness or sometimes fell victim to caricatures (in particular, I am thinking of Eve), the book was still entertaining. Certainly, I don’t believe I am the intended audience, but would recommend this to fans of MG speculative fiction.

Thank you to Feiwel & Friends for the review copy!

How many Jawas recommend this book?


Lily Child said...

Fab review! Perhaps I'll put this one on hold for a bit?

Erika said...

@Lily Child: Thank you! Putting off reading it may work best if you want to see what other people have to say about it first. :) It read a bit young for me, which unfortunately affects how I received the story. :\

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