The Unfinished Garden is a beautiful story. The character of Tilly is someone who has so many sides to her. She is someone whom we meet in her varying roles as a mom, daughter, friend, widow, ex-girlfriend, boss and ultimately, maybe most importantly, gardener.
The author starts us off in Tilly's yard, as she faces a copperhead. I'm slightly freaked out, and so is she. Top it off with her living in North Carolina (like I do!) and I admit, I'm doubly freaked. Fortunately I totally don't garden. Even though I'd like to try ...
But enough about me. Let's recognize that though the book starts off with Tilly, the back cover gives us this introductory sentence, "James Neely needs to create a garden".
What? Who? I thought Tilly was the primary character of this story?
Hold on! She is. But so is James.
What I love about this book - among many things - is that Barbara Claypole White provides us words from both points of view. We're not stuck in Tilly's mind, or only hearing what James has to say, we get them both.
We feel for them both, we want to know them, we want to hate them, we mostly love them. And then there are the times we're just not sure. We watch them interact, face-to-face and worlds apart. OK, so not worlds, but oceans. Oceans apart.
Tilly is struggling with her life after the death of her husband. She's lost, but finding her way. She's a mother, so she just cannot throw in the towel. She needs to be there for her son, and support him, while keeping memories of her husband alive. But those memories haunt her a bit. There was so much more she wishes she could have done, and regrets the things she did. Tilly's character deals with the regrets after loss of a loved one, and the emotions and situations that come with that. The author did an incredible job enabling us to feel Tilly's confusion, sadness and overwhelming loss, right along side her need to live her life. Her heart and head are torn, but we watch as she works to find her way.
James, as described on the back cover, "is haunted by irrational fears and inescapable compulsions," which is another way of saying that James deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I'm not spoiling anything by saying so, as it becomes immediately obvious as we meet James on his own. He's got various issues that come with his disorder. He's dealing with fears that coincide with his own memories of loss, his childhood, and *must do* concepts that are stuck in his mind.
The author does an extremely competent job of creating a character with OCD. She offers us a resource for anyone battling OCD in the interview at the back of the book, encouraging people to seek out help and support at websites like ocfoundation.org and speaks personally about her own son, who has dealt with OCD, and the support group she has found to help herself share with people who are also struggling.
Tilly and James are incredible characters, and we root for them the entire time. We want Tilly to find herself again, and we want James to free himself of his compulsions as best he can. If he needs Tilly's help to do that, we want her to help him, but if she needs something else or someone else, we want her to find that, too.
We're torn, but Claypole White walks us through in a way that we're happy with whatever happens. We find ourselves recognizing the connections between the supporting characters as critical to the story, but there is so much depth there that they would need a whole other post to explain. Let's just say I'd love to see a spin-off where Rowena gets her own whole book!
I think that this is a perfect fall read and/or holiday gift for someone you know enjoys a hearty novel. I definitely recommend The Unfinished Garden and hope you'll give it a chance, as well. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too.
* I received a copy of this book to review from TLC Book Tours. All expressed opinions are entirely my own. TLC provided me with the cover image shown in this review, as well. *