Publish Date: May 2, 2017
“Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.” — Unknown
One moment Lili is arguing with Dan, her husband, the next he is killed in a terrible car accident right outside their family home.
Three years later and Lili has managed to resume her day-to-day life as a mother of two girls and a successful textbook illustrator. But despite her outward appearance, she feels an aching loss. However, when she is commissioned to illustrate a series of horticultural books, Lili is forced to take gardening class and the wilted roots of her life finally start to blossom. The class provides Lili with a new network of friends – friends with their own heartaches and problems – and, maybe, another chance at love.
I normally read psychological thrillers but sometimes I need a break from narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths. I absolutely loved Abbi Waxman’s second book, Other People’s Houses, (here is my review) and The Garden of Small Beginnings came to mind when I was looking for something to read that would make me laugh and cry.
Lillian AKA “Lili” is a 34-year-old book illustrator, mother, sister, and widow. Lili’s employer wants her to illustrate a book on gardening, and they send her to a gardening class. Her sister Rachel and her two daughters, Clare and Annabel, also take the class along with an eclectic group of wannabe gardeners.
I love the relationship between Lili and Rachel, which has the perfect balance of love, support, kindness, and the brutal honesty that siblings can have with each other. Grieving Lili is trying to move on with her life three years after her husband died suddenly.
Abbi Waxman captures Lili’s grief and sorrow perfectly, but she doesn’t make it too sad – she injects humor and wit in every situation. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but also touching and bittersweet. The relationship between Lili and her girls is real, tender, and full of ups and downs. I related to Lili’s motherhood struggles and being a single parent.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“He was what I referred to as a Los Angeles Garbage Hound, mostly Labrador. He was yellow, plump, and slow. I aspired to be more like him, his approach was so effortlessly Zen: love nice people, eat appreciatively, nap frequently, be patient, and say yes to everything.”
“Thank you, Target, sanctuary to those of us who wander your aisles in aimless search for the one thing we came in for and the forty-two things we didn’t, but which, at that price, we could not resist. How we love you.”
“Annabel was sitting on my lap, wearing overalls and sneakers, being the more practical child. Only she and I knew she’d forgotten to put on underpants.”
“When you’re rosy with the glow of new pregnancy you don’t fully appreciate that the job you just signed up for involves working for sociopaths, 24-7, for the rest of your life, with no vacation days and the opposite of health benefits.”
There are gardening tips at the beginning of each chapter and they are full of fun facts and science, so I learned some things about gardening, too.
This book is about siblings, motherhood, friendships, grief, gardening, hope, healing, widowhood, mental health, and love. Abbi Waxman does an excellent job at storytelling in a way that is sincere, deeply human, relatable, and hilariously funny. The Garden of Small Beginnings is just as good as Other People’s Houses; I absolutely loved this book and recommend it. It was the perfect break from my thriller books.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars