I met Jonathan Auxier a couple of years ago, when he was at a school talking about his first book, Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes. He was a thoroughly engaging fellow as well as an ace juggler and I warmed to him immensely. I really liked Peter Nimble, so I was excited to read his new one, The Night Gardener. Here’s my review.
Two plucky and resilient orphans confront the nocturnal horrors of an isolated house, in this superbly constructed middle-grade gothic mystery chiller.
Fourteen-year-old Molly and ten-year-old Kip have left famine-stricken Ireland and landed in hostile England. In desperation, and despite the warnings of the local villagers, they end up working for a family who live in a lonely mansion, which is built around a malevolent tree. The children quickly become aware of a sinister night-time visitor and gradually make the connection with the dramatically waning health of the family.
The tale is told from the perspective of both children: Kip is a very Dickensian orphan – an angelic mix of David Copperfield and Tiny Tim – whereas Molly is a more interestingly flawed character, and their love for each other and their yearning for a home shines through.
Auxier, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (Simon & Schuster, 1962), has created a wonderfully paced and flowing narrative that is both a horror story and a meditation on the murky difference between stories and lies, and on the psychic damage of greed.
For readers who enjoy the dark fantastic mixed with heart, such as The Graveyard Book (Gaiman, HarperCollins, 2008) and Splendors and Glooms (Schlitz, Candlewick, 2012).