Author: Abbi Waxman
Published: May 2017 by Sphere
Category: Women’s Fiction, Chick Lit, Contemporary, Humour, Book Review
Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years – ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.
I’m very late with this review as the book decided to hide in the many shelves and stacks around the house. Glad I found it though! Thoroughly enjoyable.
After her husband’s tragic death in a car accident three years ago, which almost broke her, Lili Girvan’s life has settled into a day to day routine of looking after her two girls and working as an illustrator at Poplar Press. She finds it difficult to let go of her grief, perhaps she doesn’t want to, as she still misses her husband and thinks about the lack of him often. Lili’s rock is her sister Rachel, who looked after the girls during Lili’s breakdown and is always there for her.
Fate intervenes in the form of a new contract at work. The Bloem Company, one of the largest seed and flower corporations have asked Poplar Press to publish their new series of vegetable guides with illustrations done by hand. Lili can choose her medium—watercolour, charcoal, pen and ink. Lili’s boss volunteered her to attend an obligatory gardening class to be taught by one of the Bloem family.
“Yes.” She spoke more slowly, as apparently I wasn’t getting it. “I said you’d take a class on vegetable gardening.” She said it the way someone else might have said, “ And you’ll be slowly dipped in battery acid, toes first.”
“I don’t mind taking a gardening class. It sounds like fun.” I paused. “Unless it’s a three year commitment and requires na lot of heavy lifting?”
She shook her head quickly. “It’s Saturday mornings, for six weeks. We would of course be compensating you for your time.” I half shrugged, and she leapt on it. “And giving you extra vacation days.”
I would have done it for nothing, but there was no need to tell her that. “Sounds fair.”
Taking the gardening class opens new horizons for Lili, bringing her into contact with different people, each of whom adds depth and realism to the story. She forms connections which allow her to make new friendships and broaden her outlook. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Lili and Rachel. Despite their differences and occasional disagreements they have an incredibly strong bond.
Lili narrates the story so the reader is privy to her innermost thoughts and feelings, making her very a real and sympathetic character. I can only imagine how awful it must be to be widowed at such a young age with two small children to care for, dealing with things on a daily basis which seem like huge challenges at the time, not to mention having flashbacks of the accident which she witnessed.
Including short gardening instructions at the beginning of each chapter was an inspired touch, each with that flash of humour. One of the bullet points on the how to grow garlic page…’Some people eat garlic raw, claiming it gives them eternal life or something. I think it’s more likely that no one will come near them afterward, making life just extremely peaceful rather than eternal. Totally your call.’
The Garden of Small Beginnings is a poignant and believable story about loss, coping with grief and new beginnings. Despite the theme, the humour throughout lightens the narrative considerably and keeps it from being depressing. That’s not to say there aren’t some sad passages but Lili’s personal growth was lovely to witness. An excellent debut novel.
I chose to read and review The Garden of Small Beginnings based on an advance reader copy supplied by Clara Diaz of Little, Brown Book Group.
About the Author
Abbi Waxman is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman, who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.