good morning, cyberspace!
Today I’m coming at you all with a book review, which–in case you’re kinda confused with all the general bookishness that I’m flinging at you this month–has absolutely nothing to do with the book cover that I helped reveal last week. (however, if you’re interested in beautiful covers and want to join me in my mass excitement for Jenelle Schmidt’s new release coming out later this month, GO CHECK THAT SMUDGE OUT, PEASANTS!)
However, sallying forth, let’s talk about The Girl And The Witch’s Garden! (a.k.a. the novel I shall be providing a non-spoilery review for today!)
(special thanks to Netgalley and the publisher–Simon and Schuster–for sending me a free e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review!!)
THE GIRL AND THE WITCH’S GARDEN – A BOOKISH BEANS REVIEW
taken from goodreads
Mallory Estate is the last place twelve-year-old Piper Peavey wants to spend her summer vacation. The grounds are always cold, the garden out back is dead, a mysterious group of children call the property home, and there’s a rumor that Melena M. Mallory—the owner of the estate and Piper’s wealthy grandmother—is a witch.
But when Piper’s father falls ill, Mallory Estate is exactly where she finds herself.
The grand house and its garden hold many secrets—some of which may even save her father—and Piper will need to believe in herself, her new friends, and magic if she wants to unlock them before it’s too late.
SO. I’m going to be perfectly blunt here and say that this particular novel was . . . not exactly what I expected when I requested the arc for it. I’m sure this is yet another prime example of judging a book by its cover, but looking at the adorable illustration pictured above, I was expecting something soft and whimsical and–dare I say it–childish between the pages. That’s what I love most about Middle Grade, after all. Of course it has deep themes and hard truths of life and all that “fun stuff” about what it’s like living through your Youngin’ Years, but there’s also a simplicity and innocence lurking there, as well–something that Young Adult novels are strikingly without.
However, this book in particular felt more like a read for fans of the Percy Jackson series than fans of The Girl Who Drank The Moon, if that makes any sense. Whereas they’re both Middle Grades with an emphasis on magic and the fantastical, they both have drastically different tones to them.
HOWEVER! That being said, this is definitely not a bad thing and should not be taken as a knock against this book! Despite the fact that it wasn’t the tone I was initially anticipating (something that is entirely my fault), I still thought this book was very well done.
The theme, in particular, stands out as one of this book’s shining qualities. For one thing, it is deep for a children’s book. Not in a “this is gonna fly right over this kid’s head” kind of way, but in a “this is something that kids should really have more access to/conversation about” kind of way. It was nice to see a topic of such importance handled with such grace and tact, and I truly believe that somewhere out there, there’s a child who will benefit greatly from having a book with this particular message in their life. (not to mention that it IS filled with magic and wonder and enchantments, which is clearly what all of us readers are here for anyways, amiright? XD)
While the theme may have been my favorite aspect of this book, the characters were probably my least favorite. (which sounds harsh, but I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds.) Actually, the more I think about it, I’m not entirely sure whether it was the characters or the plot which fell a little flat for me–in some ways I think it might have been a mixture of the two working together–but there was definitely something about this novel that felt . . . “off”.
Our main protagonist, Piper Peavey, started off with quite a bit of promise. And for the most part, she was a likable protagonist. She was smol and young and sassy–a beautiful combination, truly–but as the story progressed, she began to develop a trait which I’m seeing more and more in the fiction world, and one that I just canNOT get behind, no matter how many times it crops up: lying.
My goodness, if there is one thing we can change in the future years of the publishing industry, can it PLEASE be the storylines that revolve around lies? Like??? Please??? I can’t even tell you how many books I have read that have “conflicts” which could easily be resolved in three minutes flat if the characters would just TALK to one another openly and honestly. I’ve actually considered flinging books at the wall because the characters are acting like utter imbeciles.
But I digress. These characters were not quite as bad as that, and the adorable motley crew of children living at Mallory Estate were, as a matter of fact, my favorite characters of the bunch. Especially Teddy and Kenji. (which is probably why it bothered me so much that Piper, who had JUST MET THESE SMOL PRECIOUS BEANS, started lying to them, even if I can understand the reasoning behind her secrecy.)
If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time, you’ll already know that characters MAKE a story for me. Plot is important, of course, but if your characters are flat, chances are I won’t enjoy your story, even if it IS the coolest concept I’ve ever seen. So, with that being said, I truly believe that the smol beans of Mallory Estate brought the story together in a way that wouldn’t have otherwise happened had they not been included in the cast.
Piper’s grandmother, on the other hand . . . well, she’s part of the reason the story felt a bit off, simply because her and her daughter’s character arcs felt slightly unnatural and forced. (Sophia Peavey, especially, was a bit of a disappointment as far as character development goes. I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind her choices, even at the resolution of the story. it felt inorganic, in a way. definitely unnatural for the woman I had initially believed her to be, but maybe that was the point. . .?)
Overall, if I can stop thinking about the plot and characterization from a writer’s perspective and view it as a reader simply looking for a good dose of the fantastical, I can honestly say I found this book to be a rather pleasant read. I wouldn’t say it’s an absolute favorite, but for readers looking for a sweet, enchanting Middle Grade novel with deep themes of love, loyalty, and family, I’d definitely recommend giving The Girl and the Witch’s Garden a try!
talk to me, peasants!
Have you read any particularly good middle grade novels recently? (I’m currently trying to devour as many of these as I possibly can for some reason?? Middle grade is SPEAKING to me right now, and I think I’d like to try my hand at writing one someday…? *hint hint*) What kinds of themes do you like to see in books? Soft themes? Deep ones? And do you prefer softer, more whimsical MG novels (like The Girl Who Drank The Moon), or more hardcore fantastical ones (like Percy Jackson)?
And most importantly of all. . .
IS IT BAD THAT I’VE NEVER READ PERCY JACKSON?
I feel like not reading this book is semi-akin to the sin which is never-having-read Harry Potter. So. Tell me if this is something that needs to change immediately. XD
As usual, let’s talk about ALL OF THE THINGS! down in the comments below, and until next time. . .
8 thoughts on “A BOOKISH BEANS REVIEW: The Girl and the Witch’s Garden by Erin Bowman”
Oooh, ok, so I saw your 3 stars and went, “Oh bummer… that cover looked cool” but then I read the rest of your review and was like, “hmmm, so maybe not completely off the table then…” LOL I’ll have to keep this on my list and check it out when it gets to my library. (Any other MG fantasy recs?)
I’m currently on a middle grade kick as well… hm, I wonder why? haha. (actually, lately it’s more about the fact that I can finish an MG book in a sitting, and that makes me feel like I’m actually getting things DONE in a time when I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing much lately… so that’s probably more why).
It has come to my attention that I really LIKE writing middle grade when I’m actually MEANING to write middle grade. So that’s a cool thing to know.
I enjoyed the Percy Jackson books quite a lot. Honestly, while Percy Jackson IS definitely solidly fantastical and has a lot of greek mythology as its backstory, I’d also say that it falls at least a little into the “whimsical” category (it’s definitely more whimsical than Harry Potter). Unfortunately, the secondary series delves into some themes that I do not find appropriate for children’s books and felt “dropped in” and out of place, so I stopped reading them, which was a bummer, because I really loved the new character of Jason (actually, I might say I loved him even MORE than I loved Percy). I would recommend them. But if you’re not in the mood for greek mythology, quests, magical mist that prevents mortals from seeing what’s actually going on, battles between good and evil, riddles to solve, and some laugh out loud humor, then I’d say wait until you are. :)
As far as preference goes… I like both. Both is good. I LOVE epic stories, so I’m often in the mood for more epic, sweeping, fantastical adventures. But I also enjoy the sweet and the whimsical and (THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON WAS SOOOOOOO GORGEOUS).
MG recommendations from me… my most recent favorite is the Half Upon a Time trilogy by James Riley (somewhere between epic and whimsical… lots of fairy tale goodness and I loved the characters).
Definitely don’t throw it out yet! It just wasn’t for “me”–which is totally fine, because YOUR MG is satisfying my thirst for whimisical fantasy middle grade. XD (Oh goodness. Lemme check my bookshelf. I’m still new-ish to the middle grade genre, because for some reason I always assumed that I had to be a YA reader/writer? Which is ridiculous because I’ve always enjoyed Middle Grade so much more. *massive eye roll*)
Okay! So I found a couple. I technically haven’t READ these yet, but I’m very excited to, and I’m planning on reading them after I finish up some other books that I’ve unfortunately left hanging. (because I am a horrible person at time-management and apparently life decided to drop kick me this summer. XD)
– THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage (I virtually have no clue what this is about, but I found it at my local Goodwill, and it looks SO. CUTE. The cover is adorable and apparently it’s about a 6th grader detective? Very excited to read this one.
– ERNESTINE, CATASTROPHE QUEEN (again. haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read the first chapter and I already love it. It’s about kids trying to start the zombie apocolypse. VERY excited about this one, as well. XD)
– THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne Valente (I have actually read this one! And it is SUPER. CUTE. My friend, Phoebe, actually ADORES this series, I believe. It’s one of her favorites. I’ve only read the first one, but it’s very whimsical and soft. 10/10 recommend.)
– I’d also rec The Girl Who Drank The Moon, but I’m pretty sure you’ve read that one already. XD
– Oh! Once I read a book titled The Menagerie, which was a fantasy Middle Grade! That one was very clever and fun, and I’ve been dying to read the sequel ever since…
That’s about all I’ve got right now… If I ever discover more I’ll shoot you an email! XD
I’m DYING to try writing Middle Grade someday! Currently most of my novels are YA, which is lovely, but someday I want to write a Middle Grade. (I even have an inkling of an idea for it, too. XD)
……okay, you’re seriously making me want to read Percy Jackson now. XD I’m thinking I’m going to have to bump this one closer to the top of my TBR. I technically have the first book on my shelf, but something’s been keeping me from reading it?? I MUST RECTIFY THIS.
AHA! YOU HAVE READ TGWDTM!!! I thought you had, because you comp’d your book with it. (a most perfect comp, btw.) If you enjoyed that one, I would DEFINITELY recommend The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. It’s got a similar vibe to it, I think! It’s been a while since I’ve read it, though… But I enjoyed it!
OOOH! BOOK RECS!! I just added all of these to my GR. My tbr is glaring but I am not sorry.
Oh, I was also going to recommend The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen and any of Merrie Haskell’s three books (they are all stand alones).
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I started Percy Jackson when my brother read them, but after the second or third book I didn’t care anymore.
I’ve been reading Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society and Matt Myklusch’s Seaborne books with my other brother. The first series mentioned is fantastic, the second isn’t bad either. But even these have an element of dishonesty in them. What’s up with that?!
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OOOH. I’ve been wanting to read The Mysterious Benedict Society!!! It’s highly recommended by a friend. XD
Ugh, I don’t know!! It’s the weirdest thing. And I hate how it’s almost a COMMON theme to have in stories. It drives me batty.
This actually sounds like a fun book! My TBR for the month is really heavy, with lots of classics and nonfiction, so this would be a nice change! I’ll have to add it. :)
I haven’t been reading a ton of MG lately, but I did just read Hold Fast by Blue Balliett (and put up a review! Whaaaat.) which is a lot of fun. Some of my other favorites are The Mysterious Benedict Society, anything by Blue Balliett, The Wednesday Wars, and Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat.
I honestly am not picky about themes in books as long as they aren’t immoral/problematic XD.
And I like whimsical MG best. :)
Honestly, not reading Percy Jackson is not nearly the big deal that not reading HP is. The first series is enjoyable and funny, especially if you know a lot about Greek Mythology, the second series is OK, and the third series is not even close to worth it. (Sorry Rick Riordan XD)
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First of all, I always ADORE your reviews!!! I’m sorry this one wasn’t quite what you expected though. That’s such a shame because YES. This looks so whimsical! I hate when the title and cover of a book doesn’t exactly match the actual story. >.> I DO like it when middle-grade books aren’t afraid to talk about deep themes though (in a respectful, tactful way of course). BUT I also want some just fun, nonsense MG reads too. It’s always good to have both kinds!
Have you read anything by Liesl Shurtliff? She writes these HILARIOUS, lighthearted MG fairy tale retellings! Admittedly, I’ve only read her Red Riding one but I ADORED it. And Faith read her Rumpelstiltskin one for review on Fairy Tale Central and she loved it too. The books are just nonsensical and hilarious and lighthearted. Which I love! I feel like you’d enjoy them too. ^_^
And okay but PERCY JACKSON IS AMAZING. The hype is real with those. They’re also downright HILARIOUS. I went into them not even realizing how side-splitting funny and bizarre they were going to be, and it was such a fun surprise! They do get kinda dark and emotional as they go on but…I liked that too. It was a good combination I felt. SO YES. I DO in fact recommend them. (I’ve only read the main series though, none of the sequel series, but I’ve heard those are pretty good too!)
Middle-grade books are fabulous! I adore how they always encompass that sense of WONDER. I don’t think I will EVER outgrow them. If anything, I like them MORE now that I’m an adult! So if YOU have any recommendations, I’d love them!!! :D (‘Cause I need more books on my TBR eheheheh…heheh…heh.)
I haven’t read Percy Jackson either, so don’t feel too bad. I started the first one, but got busy and never read past Chapter 8 or so. ALSO. Mainly just here to say… THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. Ohmygosh. Such a good book??!?!?!?!!??! Peak middle grade fantasy right there. :))
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