Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: The Girl in the Garden

The Girl in the Garden
By Kamala Nair
Publication date: June 15, 2011

My review:

Rakhee Singh postpones her engagement so that she can deal with family issues from her childhood before moving forward in her life. This means heading back to India to face the secrets of her past. The summer that Rakhee turned eleven, her mom took her to India to visit relatives for the summer. This is a fish out of water experience for Rakhee but she comes to enjoy her time there particularly because of her cousin Krishna and even Krishna's bossy older sister Meenu. The girls have fun playing but are warned to stay away from the jungle and the monster that lives there. Rakhee having been raised in America does not believe in the superstitions that her Indian family has so she questions their explanation until one day she stumbles upon a garden and finds out the truth.

While this book has drawn comparisons to The Secret Garden (it does have a secret garden after all) this story is darker and the protagonist more likeable than Mary. Rakhee is an inquisitive girl and she notices everything around her. She senses that something is wrong with her mother and she is highly attuned to her behavior. She also notices the menace that seems to emanate from the villain of the story and the secrets that the adults are hiding. Her cousins on the other hand are quite happy to take the adults' explanations at face value. Rakhee's arrival stirs up all kinds of trouble as she asks questions no one wants to answer. Her American values set her apart from her traditional family and the author does an excellent job of portraying just how foreign everything feels to Rakhee. 

The Girl in the Garden is the kind of book that draws the reader into the story. The descriptions of Rakhee's experience in India from the people she meets and the foods she eats to the garden itself are beautiful and added to my enjoyment of the novel. However there is a darkness to the story with the family secrets, a forced arranged marriage, Rakhee's mom and her mental health, and her parents' marital woes. While I was able to figure out some of the secrets, I was still surprised by some of the revelations. The one thing that disappointed me about this book is that I thought we'd see more of Rakhee as an adult given the way that the book starts with her leaving her fiance to confront her past. I like that most of the novel focuses on that childhood summer in India but the ending doesn't really show that the adult Rakhee has grown or changed. Perhaps it is more realistic that way. It does show that she is taking the first steps toward making peace with her mom. I think this is an excellent debut novel and I can't wait to see what Kamala Nair writes next. 

Readalikes: Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami, The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

Note: I received an ARC of this book through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review


  1. Love the setting, and it sounds like a really intriguing tale, but I can also see that if the story begins with the adult that you would want to see that adult again in the end. Great review!

  2. Hmm this sounds like a great read. I do love 'The Secret Garden' and love any story that sort of relates to it! I will definitely try to check this one out.


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