Jack and his family are going through some tough times. He wants to help his mom, who is exhausted and stressed from working multiple jobs, but all she wants him to do is watch his autistic sister, Maddy, who never talks. When Jack gets into trouble at the county fair, selling the family car for a chest of magic seeds, it seems like the family is at their lowest point ever. But then Maddy plants some seeds and magic happens. The two are joined by homeschooled Lilly, who's lonely now that her brothers are gone and has a lot of useful skills (and weapons). The magical garden seems like the best thing that's ever happened. Jack finally has a friend, Maddy is more involved and happy than ever before, and they can do magical things with the plants and seeds. But maybe the garden isn't the perfect world it seems - and Jack has to make some difficult decisions with serious consequences.
Hatke's art is fresh and cinematic, balancing the excitement, danger, and adventure of the strange creatures and the garden with the character development of three complex personalities. It's a mark of his genius that he keeps this fairytale spin-off from being just another male-dominated fantasy adventure. While Jack is the central character, both Lilly and Maddy are strong characters in their own right and the three share equal time and equally complex emotions and feelings. Maddy, despite her silence, is no less a character than the other two and readers will feel both Jack's frustration at trying to read her moods and Maddy's frustration at trying to communicate in her own way. Lilly at first seems like the predictable tomboyish girl, but quickly grows into a character in her own right, anxious to experience the world and with emotions and struggles no less real than Jack's.
Verdict: This is a complex and powerful story with enough fantasy and adventure to capture the most reluctant reader. Highly recommended.
ISBN: 9781626722651; Published 2016 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium