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Book Review: The Night Garden – Polly Horvath

During WW II, Franny lives with her foster parents on a secluded farm on Vancouver Island; they lead a quiet and peaceful life. Franny is a writer, foster mom Sina sculpts and dad Old Tom tends to the gardens. One day, their neighbor, Crying Alice (who has earned her name), arrives with an unusual request: to look after her children while she visits her husband – who is a mechanic based on an airforce base, to keep him from doing something very stupid (she thinks he is planning something, anyway). While Crying Alice is away, Franny and the neighbor children try to find out about the mysterious surrounding their father, and what he might have to do with a missing plane…

This book has crazy, odd and quirky moments, characters and occurrences that you won’t want to leave this world for a while! I love the main character Franny – she is smart and wise beyond her years, probably because she didn’t grow up with many children around. I loved the very beginning of the book, because it shows what a strange ride you’re in for: Franny is a foster kid who’s supposed to be adopted by Sina’s and Old Tom’s neighbours, but their house has burnt down and so the woman from foster care rings on their doorbell instead. Just as she wants to explain the issue to them, the woman suffers a heart attack on their doorstep and so, Sina and Old Tom decide to keep Franny themselves. I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but I think this is a very good example of what you can expect.

I love that this story portrays a quiet and usually unexciting family life during the war, instead of the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, the story is not boring at all, I just found it quite interesting to see a book that plays during the war which is not focused on the war itself. You don’t get much about it at all, there are just some soldiers on the property (which is huge) and it is mentioned once or twice, but I think it portrays an interesting picture, especially for children. Also, I loved that it brings up the radio as a new item during these times, and how people seemed to be both excited as well as suspicious about it.

The characters are super awesome, each and every one of them is different and unique, and very likeable overall. Franny is wise, smart and sarcastic, Sina seems a bit distant to others (everyone but Old Tom and Franny), but once you read more about her, you see how warm and friendly she really is. She seems to be content with her life, with the two people she loves and has around, and with the farm. Old Tom seems a bit broody and quiet, but he is very nice too. Most of the time I had the feeling that Franny, Sina and Tom were housemates rather than a family, because Franny doesn’t really come across like a child – in a good way though. I’m sure other adults will enjoy this story just as much as children!

However – where and what is the Night Garden, as the title promises, you might wonder? Well, that’s the only slight negative in my opinion. Not really negative negative, though – it’s just really underrepresented. I enjoyed the read a lot, but then began to wonder about the garden myself around halfway through the book. The mystery revolving around it is not as “mysterious” as I had expected and hoped for, but at least it had a significant part in the story (even if it was short and not as special as I thought it would be). Maybe the title is a bit misleading? But honestly, I have thought about it and have no idea what other title would fit this strange read and better.

This was the first novel I have read by Polly Horvath, but I can already promise it won’t be my last! The odd and incredibly different and outstanding characters are super imaginative and I can’t wait to dive into another story like that! Half a star less from me because I expected to read more about the Night Garden from the title, but not any less enjoyable for it – great read!

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