A girl discovers a mystery to solve when clues appear in her garden in this middle-grade historical fiction tale.
When Bess and her mother move to the small town of Pineview, all the young girl wants is her cousin Megan. But Megan lives in an apartment building back home, and Bess needs to live in the country for her health. Bess, who has polio, walks with a crutch and deals with the recent loss of her father in an accident. Her mother arranges for Mrs. O’Toole to stay with them in their new residence. When Bess first sees the overgrown garden behind her home, a flash of orange catches her eye. At the general store, the owner gives Bess an old book about gardening, inspiring her to help repair the garden. The orange flash she saw turns out to be a friendly kitty, and soon she meets Josie Poe, a little girl who lives nearby. Together with the help of Mrs. O’Toole and Bess’ mother, the garden begins to return to its wondrous state. Bess and Josie begin to find strange objects—a tin box, a spoon that the cat discovers—but they’re stumped until Bess’ neighbors tell her about the girl who lived there before. A secret map in the tin box inspires Bess to solve the mystery of the garden once and for all, bringing her family and new friends together. Warmth and comfort color the tale, with descriptions of flowers and fresh rhubarb muffins, picnic baskets and thick slices of homemade bread. Many chapters include letters to Megan from Bess or Bess’ diary entries, although they don’t always share the heroine’s interior world the way they could. By the narrative’s end, Bess can walk without her crutch, but the storyline of her relationship to her polio remains largely underdeveloped. The riddle of the garden slowly comes together, featuring more mystery than magic. But the ultimate message that Bess finds when the map reveals its secrets fits the hopeful tone of the book.
While it may not challenge young readers, this pleasant story provides an enjoyable country town and friendly characters.