Olivia is desperate and miserable. Her mother died during the winter and there's no one but her to look after and understand five-year-old Nellie. Especially now that Pop is sending them to stay with Aunt Minty. She's old and doesn't really want them - and she certainly doesn't understand Nellie's Rules, which must be followed.
Aunt Minty makes some well-intentioned but disastrous attempts to help Olivia and Nellie, but their healing doesn't really begin until Olivia finds an old book and they set out on a marvelous treasure hunt. Could the magical story of the Lost Flower Children be true? Nellie absolutely believes, but Olivia knows she's too old for magic. But maybe a little magic is just what she needs.
This story doesn't have the wrenching emotional pain of some of the contemporary middle grade books about death, such as Suzanne LaFleur's Love, Aubrey or Sally Nicholls' Ways to Live Forever, but Olivia and Nellie's grief and struggle to adjust after their mother's death is very real. Their characters are beautifully drawn and open to the reader throughout the story as we watch them grow, change, and create a new family dynamic. Like the garden, Olivia and Nellie come back to life slowly. It takes a lot of work and weeding from everyone, but the result is beautiful.
Verdict: I've read several Janet Taylor Lisle novels and found them compelling, although not what I'd normally read. I picked this one up because the cover and interior illustrations are done by Satomi Ichikawa, whom I love for her illustrations of Patricia Lee Gauch's Tanya ballet picture books. I also love anything Ichikawa does involving gardens, so this was a lovely book. Worth adding to your library, even as a paperback.
ISBN:978-0698118805; Published April 2001 by Philomel (out of print); Received through Bookmooch.