Goodreads: The Night Gardener
Published: May 2014
Orphaned while attempting to escape the Great Famine, young Molly and Kip arrive at an old English estate to take up their new jobs as servants. Locals speak of the place as haunted, however, and none will dare to step foot on the property. Desperate to survive, the children take the position, anyway, and dismiss the rumors. But someone walks the house at night and the family all seem to be rapidly losing their health. Can Molly and Kip break an ancient curse or will they become the latest casualties of the night man?
The Night Gardener is a deliciously creepy tale with all the elements you would want in something that proclaims itself as channeling Washington Irving and Henry James. From the dilapidated house entwined with a sinister tree to the macabre family who dwells within, everything points from the very beginning to the type of tale that will keep you awake at night with all the lights on. The Night Gardener does not rely only on chills, however, for a great story, but also raises questions about truth, desire, and the power of words to create a work nearly as intellectually interesting as it is creepily compelling.
Fourteen-year-old protagonist Molly and her eleven-year-old brother Kip will no doubt capture the sympathy of readers from the beginning. Molly is a word spinner and well aware of her power. Young but determined, she mostly uses her stories to protect her brother from the harsh reality around them, as well as to provide for their everyday needs now that their parents are gone. Her loving instincts, her gumption, but most of all her unspoken need for her own tales are all immediately endearing, though perhaps it is her increasing inability to differentiate between stories and lies that makes her the most likable. She is, in the end and despite all her strength, still a girl in need of a place to call home and readers will easily welcome her into their hearts. Her brother Kip, meanwhile, calls forth much the same response, being a sensible, capable boy with a strong moral compass. When Molly fails, readers know they can always count on her brother to bring both of them safely through.
Molly and Kip’s good hearts are, of course, the key to defeating the ancient curse that threatens their new employers. However, though a middle-grade fantasy no doubt means the two will succeed, Jonathan Auxier still manages to make The Night Gardener a truly frightening read. Aside from the externals, such as the presence of evil walking through the house each night, the story also offers a scarier plot point: the inability of the characters to leave their precarious situation due to ordinary human greed. What seemed to be a typical ghost story suddenly expands to take a hard look at human nature and the lengths we will go to achieve our greatest desires.
With sympathetic characters, delicious chills, an even pace, and a good moral lesson, The Night Garden stands out among the middle grade fantasies of 2014. I look forward to reading more of Auxier’s work.