cover image The Gardener

The Gardener

Sarah Stewart. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32517-6

Late in the summer of 1935, Lydia Grace's parents are out of work, and to help make ends meet they send Lydia Grace to live with Uncle Jim, a baker in the city, ""until things get better."" Told entirely through Lydia Grace's letters, the story radiates her utterly (and convincingly) sunny personality. Before she leaves, for example, she writes Uncle Jim with a list of ""important things that I'm too shy to say to your face: 1. I know a lot about gardening, but nothing about baking. 2. I'm anxious to learn to bake, but is there any place to plant seeds?"" With a subtlety finely attuned to Stewart's quietly emotional narrative, Small shows the hardy nature of the girl's optimism: she works long hours in her uncle's bakery and stays cheerful in his bleak apartment. Bloom by bloom, Lydia Grace adds splashes of color to her drab surroundings, eventually transforming a littered rooftop into a splendid garden as a surprise for her somber-faced but kind uncle. This inspiring offering from creative collaborators (The Library) gets much of its vitality from what it leaves unsaid: at first Lydia Grace misses her home and her garden; and, even though Uncle Jim never once succumbs to her plans to make him smile, she succeeds in bringing him happiness. The final picture, of Uncle Jim hugging Lydia Grace good-bye at the train station 10 months after her arrival, the bakery cat tucked in a carrier to accompany her home, speaks volumes about the vast impact one small individual can make. All ages. (Aug.)