A woman navigates change and growth while reckoning with memories of her youth in this debut novel.
Jill at first seems to have an idyllic childhood. Her adoring, artistic mother, Rebecca, is raising her in the Garden, a sprawling homestead full of creative horticultural designs. But Jill has just turned 10 and increasingly asks questions about the frequent absence of her father, Jay, a renowned photographer often away on assignment for months at a time. The Garden remains a paradise, but Jill’s struggle to decode her complicated family riddles is further challenged when her mother gives birth to a baby and tragedy strikes shortly after. Jill’s best friend, Susie, supports her throughout but must struggle with her own mother’s alcoholism. In interspersed chapters told parallel to this childhood tale, a grown Jill is trying to get her garden-ware business off the ground when a chance encounter with the handsome and spontaneous Charlie changes her life forever. The two feel an instant, deep connection, but their romance is complicated by personality differences and Jill’s memories of her past. As Jill grows older, some happy “endings” occur—a marriage, a successful business—but time continues to bring new challenges and realizations. Some elements of Jill’s life are so sentimental and picturesque that they border on the unrealistic or clichéd, yet Leet’s best passages utilize this almost saccharine quality by contrasting it with real change and pain. The book’s many episodes feel sometimes leisurely or overly wandering and random, and its characters likewise can read both as two-dimensional types sharing platitudes and as real individuals meditating on the nature of happiness. Charlie and Jill’s early courtship, for example, feels like a sketch of a romance lacking real characterization (Jill ultimately loses her virginity to Charlie, but the reason she stops waiting is never fully explained). Yet the give-and-take of their adult marriage resonates far more effectively, mirroring the well-written, alternatingly cheery and sad dynamics among Jill, Rebecca, and Jay.
A tale of a woman’s childhood and adulthood employs both sweet clichés and genuine reflections on the passage of time.