Written by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Feiwel and Friends, October 3, 2017
My star rating: 3.5 stars
For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family. Goodreads link
I’m truly and utterly conflicted. While certain aspects of this book were so beautiful and unexpected I was left speechless, I simultaneously felt as though I was disconnected. I had a couple dislikes but mostly likes – the best way to explain how I feel is that I don’t think that this book was meant for me.
Part of my disconnect was that magical realism is unchartered territory for me. I haven’t read many books in this genre so this was a bit of a new experience for me. What I’ve found with magical realism is that you’re into the situation, you have to accept what’s going on as fact, and move on. There’s no real explanation in the beginning to catch you up to speed. And this is why I struggled with this book in the beginning. We meet these 5 girls (young women really) and all we know is that they live with their 5 mothers and 5 grandmothers. There’s always women born in this family and there’s always 5. We quickly find out that the people they fall in love with disappear without warning, they have the ability to grow flowers any and everywhere, and they are somehow trapped to this location and can’t leave. Sounds simple enough but it’s all a bit confusing in the beginning as these tiny details are released very slowly. I just felt that there wasn’t enough detail on WHAT was happening and WHY for me to grasp as a central grounding point. In order for me to connect on an emotional level with a story – I need facts.
As disconnected as I felt at times, I will say that this book is all about the vivid descriptions, emotions, love, and connections. I loved that this book included male/male relationships, female/female relationships, bisexuality and straight. It was all there. There was also the fact that all the characters had varying shades of brown skin and not white. This book was also sprinkled with Spanish words and foods which was wonderful! I got to bring in my small ability to speak Spanish. This is a very diverse read and it all felt so refreshing!
On top of the romantic relationships, there was also the relationship of family. The daughters/cousins, mothers and grandmothers. They were all so in tune with each other, all very protective, and willing to do anything to make the others feel safe, happy, and understood. These women loved each other so completely and it was heartwarming to read. Even the women many generations in the past played a part in their lives. The family aspect was one of my favourite parts and felt like a warm hug. Though I do have to say that I wish we could have seen more of the mothers and grandmothers. They were in the background too often and I wished that the girls didn’t take on so much on their own. Their mothers had been where they were and understood more than anyone in the world what these girls were going through.
What I found most amazing about this book was the writing – I mean wow! Talk about poetic and beautiful. I felt as if I was reading about a fairy tale. Everything was so descriptive and soft, fragrant and beautiful, vibrant and wonderful. I would put this author in the same category with Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, and Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus. Everything had a dreamlike quality to it. I felt like I could smell the flowers, feel the air on my face, see twinkling lights in the sky. Every time I turned the pages I felt as if I was transported to this garden, surrounded by flowers and trees, the smell of the dirt filling my nose. Even though I felt a little lost through the story it was because of her writing that I was able to feel their love, loss, fear, and heartbreak. Anna-Marie McLemore is added to my short list of authors who’s writing styles I admire for their beauty!!
Where I had difficulties with the book was the pace and the plot. This is a VERY character driven story. The plot seemed to stay hidden under these characters and the writing and I found myself almost forgetting what the “end game” was. There wasn’t a set plot or end game in place, but more of a general direction that the story was moving in. The plot seemed to be in disguise the whole time and because the pace was so slow it was hard to uncover. When people talk about a slow burn, this one is more lukewarm at a snails pace. I know what you’re thinking – OUCH! But I’m not saying that to be rude or mean – it’s actually not a bad thing!! This is just where my initial comment of this story “not being meant for me” comes in. I felt that I was the wrong audience to appreciate this. I do enjoy a slow burning, character driven story but, this was a little too slow for me and it was confused by the magical realism. It was just a little too much for me…. or too little depending on how I look at this.
As confused as I was in the beginning of the book, the story unfolded like the petals of the flowers they grew with their hands at La Pradera. As each layer was revealed I was more emotionally connected to the story and the characters – especially Fel. I loved following him as he went from not knowing anything about himself to remembering bits and pieces of his past. I never in a million years would have expected it would all come together and end the way that it did. The ending was SOOOO beautiful. I mean really beautiful!
So yes, I’m conflicted about how I really feel. I did enjoy this book. Very much so. But my negative thoughts and feelings are due to my preferences as a reader and NOT THE BOOK. This book is really great, but I don’t think I was the right audience for it.
I’d like to thank the people at Raincoast books and Feiwel and Friends for the chance to review this book. This has not influenced me in any way – all thoughts and feelings are my own.
Until next time, happy reading!