Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Thoughts - The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones

The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones
published 2011
419 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor's mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart. Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life--anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten--when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole. Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It's about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie's heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover. A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardner reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all

My thoughts-

Oh, this was just a lovely book. From the very start, as the author sets the stage in Jeremiah's voice, I fell in love with this wise old man and the gardens and family he tends. As I grew to know more and more about Mack and Gray, I quickly found a connection with them, and ached with their grief when tragedy struck. Jones' cast of characters is warm and full of life, and while some of the secondary characters seemed a little one-dimensional, her main players are satisfyingly rounded, with faults and graces in equal measure.

This wasn't always an easy book to read, however. The tragedy that strikes Mack and Gray is one I always find difficult to read about, and Jones gives her readers the task of experiencing that tragedy fully with Mackenzie. It was often painful, but never felt maudlin, and I thought the author did an excellent job of writing such a heart-wrenching subject.

One of the problems I often have with Christian fiction is the way faith is incorporated into the story - and by that, I mean it isn't. It seems the author has a specific "lesson" or "agenda" they wish to impart, and so at various time throughout the novel, their characters give little mini-sermons about whatever topic the author has chosen to write about. I find this irritating both from a reader's perspective - why must you bring the story to a halt just to throw that in? - and from a Christian perspective - do you really think I'm dense enough that you have to literally spoon-feed me your views on faith? I was impressed with the way Jones wove the faith elements of her story into the narrative. While it is certainly a novel with things to say about trust and forgiveness and relying on God, those elements seemed to spring organically from the flow of the story - they seemed to be the things these characters would naturally say. I think if more Christian fiction authors would be able to write like this, their books would find a much wider audience.

I enjoyed this novel very much. I thought it was a sensitive and realistic look at the way a family would cope with a great tragedy, and in the end it left me feeling hopeful and refreshed. If you are on the fence about Christian fiction, I would start with this title. Definitely recommended.

Finished - 5/23/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG for some scary events
My rating - 9/10

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