Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: Secret Keepers

Secret Keepers by Mindy Friddle

3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved Friddle's first book, The Garden Angel; this is my second book for the Southern Challenge, y'all!

Summary: "At age seventy-two, Emma Hanley plans to escape small-town Palmetto, South Carolina, and travel the globe. But when her fickle husband dies in undignified circumstances, Emma finds herself juggling the needs of her adult children. Her once free-spirited daughter Dora turns to compulsive shopping and a controlling husband to forget her wayward past. Her son Bobby still lives with her, afflicted with an illness that robbed him of his childhood promise. When Dora’s old flame Jake Cary returns to Palmetto with a broken heart and a gift for gardening, the town becomes filled with mysterious, potent botanicals and memories long forgotten. Soon enough, Jake and his ragtag group of helpers begin to unearth the secrets that have divided the Hanleys for decades."

First line: "The town had moved the Confederate Monument from the square to the gates of Springforth Cemetery some twenty years after the War of Northern Aggression, and General Robert E. Lee - who stood atop the mossy marble with a scowl - had never quite recovered."

My thoughts: Both The Garden Angel and this book deal with mental illness (agorophobia and schizophrenia), magical inanimate objects (a house and flowers), and a death bringing on family problems and reconciliations (sometimes). I preferred the enchanted house to the enchanted flowers, but I do like the idea of the "secret keeper" flowers that smell like your absolute favourite scent in the world - it revealed a lot about the characters. I can't think what I would encounter in one of them!

I seem to be reading quite a few books set in the 80's this year - it seems a bit of a trend in "historical fiction." I am old, my childhood has become historical fiction! This is the second one in which the Vietnam War played a large role, which surprises me. I hadn't really realized it was still affecting people's lives well into the 80's, although of course it makes sense. Being Canadian, I guess it was just never a factor in the life of anyone I knew.

I think those references and the rather annoyingly cryptic pronouncements of schizophrenic Bobby made me like this book a bit less than The Garden Angel. But it's still an enjoyable book. Apart from the Vietnam stuff, I did like Jake and his ragtag band of gardeners, the Blooming Idiots. Dora's ultra-religious husband (who makes the family attend a church set up in what was once a mall) was awful and I liked her teenage son's efforts to escape his rigid control by - how rebellious - visiting his grandmother!

This book is set in my beloved South Carolina and the Southern-ness comes through well, especially in the hot weather and lush vegetation, as well as Emma Hanley coming from a fallen aristocratic family whose ancestral home is now inhabited by bums.

Things are wrapped up nicely at the end, with happy endings (and beginnings) for everyone who deserves them.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in the 80's and my father was still affected by his time in Vietnam, so I get that.
Sounds like a pretty good book otherwise.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Yeah, it must be because I'm Canadian - it's a cultural difference I never noticed before, but I'm sure it's a huge thing for those that dealt with it.

It was good and even the Vietnam parts weren't bad, per se, they were just hard for me to relate to.