When Tom is sent to his aunt’s house for the summer he resigns himself to weeks of boredom. Lying awake one night he listens to the grandfather clock in the hall strike every hour. Eleven…Twelve…Thirteen. Thirteen! Tom rushes down the stairs and opens the back door. There, awaiting him, is a beautiful garden. A garden that shouldn’t exist. And there are children in the garden too – are they ghosts? Or is it Tom who is really the ghost…
Stories that have a bit of intrigue and mystery always get my attention and the way this tale comes together at the end is brilliant. Lonely Tom has been sent to stay with his aunt and uncle and there are no other children there, and not even a garden to play in. But at night incredible things start happening when the clock strikes thirteen. Tom goes to investigate and discovers a garden that only appears at night. Better still, in the garden there is a girl that he befriends and plays with.
Strangely when Tom re-visits the garden, the very next night, time has moved differently in the garden, but his new friend Hatty is still there. Sometimes she is older, sometimes younger, sometimes it is summer, sometimes winter. Tom is very puzzled about what is happening and why other people in the garden can’t see him, it is an exciting problem! Tom goes on an incredible journey of discovery, about himself and about the garden and about Hatty.
This story examines many issues that affect children; loneliness and friendship, truth lies and stories, growing up and moving on, love and loss, what is time? Being away from home, how to make difficult choices. It is crammed full of issues and things to think about, but this never detracts from the story.
The prose in this book is wonderful; the description of the garden is lovely and draws you in to the world that Tom is experiencing. The enchanted world he enters feels magical and real at the same time. I also love the passages about his experiences with Hatty, some make you smile, some are moving, in particular when they both put their hands in the water and they are touching and yet not touching. It is beautiful and full of a sense of the love and the boundaries of their relationship. It always brings a lump to my throat when I read it. It is so evocative of the myriad emotions that you go through when growing up and yet so often can’t articulate.
As we move between now and the time in garden we gradually uncover the history of the house and Hatty’s story, The movement between the time periods demonstrates how different and yet how similar the lives of children are. The clothes and expectations maybe different, but the feelings and problems to be dealt with are often the same.
I can’t say any more without putting in major spoilers about the story, you need to read it for yourself and feel it all as Tom feels it, see it as he sees it. Suffice to say it is both a happy and sad ending and one which is very satisfying without being typical in any way.
Verdict: Intriguing, clever, beautifully written, great characters, absorbing ideas, a book you can return to many times and still find fresh and exciting. Fabulous!
Reviewed by Helen