Abrams, 2014 345 pgs
Molly and Kip, two down-on-their-luck Irish orphans travel to a remote mansion in Victorian England to work as servants. The once glorious, now ram-shackled, house is creepy and the inhabitants, a family with two children, are unfriendly and strange. With nowhere else to go, Molly and Kip move in. Gaining admittance to a room, which is always kept locked, Molly discovers a part of the enormous tree which inhabits the grounds growing inside. The tree is magical and can grant your wildest dreams. Molly immediately goes to the tree for word about her missing parents and authentic sounding letters from them appear. As Molly becomes obsessed with the tree and obtaining more letters, she becomes stained and sickly, much like the rest of the family. Eventually she comes to the conclusion that the tree slowly drains the life-force from unsuspecting people in exchange for their wishes. Meanwhile, Molly and Kip encounter the ghostly Night Gardener, who maintains the tree and protects it at all costs. Despite being lame, Kip, along with Molly and, eventually the rest of the family, battle the Night Gardener and try to destroy the tree in order to break the binds that hold them to it.
Not for the faint of heart, The Night Gardener is a classic Victorian Gothic tale; much like what was popular when the novel takes place. It is dark and atmospheric and offers creepy twists and turns along the way. The story is the stuff of nightmares and will delight young fans of the macabre. Since it is meant to be true to Victorian England, the language is authentic and dense. Molly and Kip are written colloquially, as uneducated Irish immigrants of the time, and can be hard to understand. There are two deaths in the book, minor characters, one extremely unlikable and the other an old person, so it’s almost okay. I liked this book a lot, but it’s not for everyone. It will appeal to a certain reader; intelligent kids, who like smart, yet spooky books. I love the concept of a magical, yet evil, tree and feel like the book is a fresh idea. Molly, a natural storyteller, demonstrates the power of stories, the legacy of which is passed down from the old lady who is killed by the tree. The book ends hopefully with a new life in store for Molly and Kip and the family finding peace.