The characters are the highlight of this thoughtful coming-of-age story from Larson (Mariposa, 1996, not reviewed). Amid the relative innocence of the summer of 1957, Dave's life is uprooted by his parents' separation. Dave, 14, and his mother move into her childhood home while his older brother, Brad, stays behind at the ranch to help their father with the crops. Dave is overwhelmed by the changes and the division of his family, and doesn't know how he'll get through the summer. Then his mother hires Gene Tole to build a garden as part of her ongoing project to spruce up the old house. Gene involves Dave as his helper, and although Dave doesn't recognize it at the time, he falls in love with Gene. The garden is a powerful symbol in this well-crafted novel. Together, Dave and Gene build and bond while Dave grows and heals. Readers know that Dave's budding maturity will see him through after he learns Gene is gay. The characters shine: impressionable, sensitive Dave; gentle, caring Gene; Dave's vulnerable but determined mother. The relationships are built slowly and credibly, in evocative passages that grandly conjure the California countryside, and tenderly depict the nuances of human understanding and emotion.