Hannah’s Garden by Midori Snyder

hannah's gardenReading level: 6.5(ish)
Genre: Magical realism, fantasy
ELL-Friendly: Not particularly
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Seventeen-year-old Cassie Brittman is looking forward to her violin recital and the prom– until the hospital calls and she learns that her grandfather, noted mystical painter Daniel Brittman, is dying.

Cassie, her mother, Anne, and Anne’s new boyfriend travel to the family farm and immediately see that things are far from normal. The farm, including Great-Grandmother Hannah’s spiral garden, is almost destroyed, and someone (or something) seems to be stalking them. Cassie soon finds herself at the center of an age-old battle between two supernatural clans-the sinister, dark Red Clan and her own family, the Green Clan. For it turns out that Cassie’s grandfather is half nature spirit, half human…

Hannah’s Garden is an interesting blend of the every-day struggles of Cassie and her mother alongside the magic of the family farm. It’s one of the most beautifully-written stories I’ve read in a while, but some of the content left me underwhelmed.

Cassie faces a difficult decision that many of us have probably dealt with (or will in the future) in that she drops everything to help her mom care for her grandfather. She gives up the prom and her recital for a sick man who doesn’t recognize her anymore. Heartbreaking, right?

Things get interesting when we learn that Anne, Cassie’s mom, is more like a child herself, leaving Cassie as the mother figure at times, much like the family in Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle (which is a fantastic memoir that I highly recommend). The relationship between mother and daughter and also between them and the new boyfriend is frustrating, sweet, heart-wrenching, and so real. The boyfriend may have been my favorite character, actually, despite the reader not knowing much about him. He never gets upset, he doesn’t run away, and we don’t know why he sticks by Cassie and Anne other than because he’s a legitimately good person.

Then there’s the magical folk – the dancing figures in the background of the cover. We see glimpses of them straight from the beginning. But they’re no more than glimpses. Near the end, we finally get immersed in this magical world that apparently lives alongside humanity..? And here’s where I ran into problems. Because the magical part of this story came at the end, I was left with too many questions, and the world was not only unrealistic but not developed to my taste. It felt rushed. Personally, I would have liked the story more if it had forsaken the magic and focused on the familial aspect.

Again, part of the beauty of this story comes from the flowing prose. It’s not particularly ELL-friendly because the vocabulary is complex, especially when describing Cassie’s music (I’m a musician and I didn’t recognize all the words) and plants.

6.5 is my best guess of a reading level; none was listed on Scholastic’s website. Although it’s at a middle school reading level, it’s best suited for 8th grade and above because of some content. Let’s just say there are some moments featuring breasts, but those instances are brief. There are some curse words, too, but nothing in this book is enough keep it off the classroom shelves.

Hannah’s Garden is my thirteenth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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