SUMMARY: Mauled by a dog when he was five, Mason is now a brillliant high school football player. When an upset Mason confronts his mother at work one day, he unwittingly discovers a shocking plan to grow a human garden, full of young subjects who do not need food or water to live. When Mason helps one of the female subjects escape, he begins to unravel mysteries about his family and himself.
WHAT I LIKED: Initially, The Gardener has a lot going for it. Humans whose bodies are being trained to rely on sunlight for food--certainly, a unique premise that has potential. While the plot fell apart quickly, it is, blessedly, only a short 232 pages.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: With boring, under-developed characters and a convoluted plot full of holes and unanswered questions, The Gardener is a huge disappointment. By the end of the book, the reader has learned little about Mason, Laila, the mother, or Solomon. For example, why does Laila fear the Gardener so much? He seems like he really cares about the children he helped to create. The autotrophs do not seem to feel pain or emotion; they sleep almost constantly. The Gardener seems to have little contact with them; he is hooked up to machines and is therefore virtually immobile. Why does Mason fall for Laila so quickly, especially considering her completely blank personality? Sure, she is beautiful (a point underscored repeatedly), but what else does he know about her? Certainly not enough to build a friendship on, much less repeatedly risk one's life to save.
I felt confused reading the action sequence in the last quarter of the book. Mason runs around, nobly risking his life and freedom to save Laila. Workers at TroDyn mindlessly try to capture Mason, at the direction of Eve, who is simply described as "crazy" and "evil." Mason finally meets The Gardener (a predictable "twist" there), only to discover that he is not the evil monster Mason thought him to be. The final chapters are just a lot of running around, hiding, and kid-outsmarting-heavily-armed-but-dimwitted-adults.
The science of the autotrophs in general just does not make sense or seem at all plausible. The major characters are dimensionless, being either all-good or all-evil. By the time I got to the bizarre ending, I really didn't care much anymore. I just wanted to finish it.
- LANGUAGE: none
- SEXUAL CONTENT: one very mild, almost platonic kiss
- VIOLENCE: mild
READALIKES: The Compound by S.A. Bodeen; Candor by Pam Bachorz
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and it really does get some checkout, despite my non-recommendation. I don't generally offer negative opinions of books to students, but if they ask me what I thought of a certain book, I am honest about it. Boys especially love it, and I have even recommended it to a few boys I knew would like it. It definitely has a home in my library, and I would replace it if it got lost or damaged.