The Garden of Eve
By K.L. Going
I will always love this book. I loved it at twelve, and I love it at twenty-eight.
The magical realism is subtle and beautifully done. I really loved the concept of gardens as afterlife. It’s a simple concept, and this is a middle grade book. Since The Garden of Eve is for children, the writing is uncomplicated. However, using simple language to communicate metaphorical or complex ideas isn’t always easy, so I applaud Going for managing.
K.L. Going does a remarkable job handling grief in The Garden of Eve, and I think it’s a book I’d want my own children to read. It’s hard to understand tragedy unless experienced, and I believe The Garden of Eve was empathetic and kind to those grieving while opening a window into how someone might be feeling if they are not. It shows different people in their own grief too. One person withdraws into themselves. One feels lost and alone. One escapes into a lie. One remembers fondly, if sadly. All of these things are normal reactions to grief.
I especially loved how Evie’s father was: doing his best for his daughter while mourning his wife. He did withdraw. He wasn’t emotionally available for Evie, and he also didn’t really understand how to interact with her in their new dynamic. And that’s okay! I’ve seen some reviews of this book say Evie was neglected and unloved in the face of her mother’s death, but I disagree. Grief isn’t perfect; it doesn’t allow for selflessness all the time either. I think the point The Garden of Eve makes is we all grieve, in our own way and time, but we do come back from it. We may be forever different, but we come back.
Evie herself is amazing. She’s barely eleven years old. She misses her mom more than anyone, and she wishes their life had never changed. She didn’t want to move away from home. She didn’t want to leave where her mother was buried. She didn’t understand her own father’s grief—and she shouldn’t have. She’s eleven. To Evie, her father’s actions are selfish—and in some ways, they’re that too—but she does come to understand that he’s doing his best. But my favorite part of Evie’s grief is the guilt she feels when she begins to have fun again, to enjoy things. Guilt is a huge part of grief I feel isn’t talked about enough. Survivor’s guilt is talked about all the time, but the guilt of moving forward is not. Evie feels a wrongness the first time she wants to smile, to laugh. And it’s beautiful to watch her grow through the book.
The Garden of Eve is on an expediated timeline. It takes place ten months after Evie’s mother dies. Ten months is not a long time, so the grief goes quick. This is middle grade fantasy, so you’re going to get a happy ending. A hopeful ending. There’s some adventure, some humor, some mystery, and some life.