S. A. Bodeen
Genre: YA, science-fiction
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Square Fish (March 1, 2011)
Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells, and people all in a row. Not exactly the nursery rhyme that we remember from our childhood, right? In S.A. Bodeen’s The Gardener, this is exactly the type of garden found inside of The Greenhouse at TroDyn Labs.
The story begins when Mason, the protagonist in the story, is attacked by the neighbor’s dog while waiting for the school bus, leaving his face disfigured. To soothe him, his mother pulls out a DVD of a man reading the children’s book The Runaway Bunny. The voice on the DVD belongs to his father. Throughout his life Mason wonders who his father is, but he never finds any new information. The only reminder of his dad is the DVD that he carries with him. When Mason visits his mother at her job, he discovers that she is the care-taker for a group of catatonic teenagers. His is mesmerized by one girl’s beauty and lack of response. Disturbed by recent events, he puts the DVD in to the DVD player only to find that his favorite part of the book is a trigger to waken the girl from her sleep state.
From there, Mason “rescues” the girl and begins his quest to discover her identity. However, the girl isn’t much help because she can’t remember anything about her life or how to perform basic functions (i.e. eating, changing clothes). The rescue seems fairly simple until the girl awakens in the middle of the night with a nightmare about a gardener, and then senses people lurking outside of the cabin that they are hiding in. So begins the game of hide and seek. Eventually, Mason meets an ex-TroDyn scientist at a book signing. The scientist, Dr. Emerson instantly recognizes the girl as Laila, an experiment on sustainability conducted by the lab.
The discovery of Laila’s identity does not bring the sense of peace that Mason hoped for. Instead, he finds himself face to face with a disturbing discovery. TroDyn is conducting research on alternate forms of sustainability, but they are using humans as the test subjects! “The Greenhouse” isn’t for growing plants and alternate food sources; it is for growing a genetically altered race of humans. Stranger still, the “Gardener” responsible for the experiments seems to know a lot more about Mason than he feels comfortable with.
After finishing this book, I had mixed feelings. The final 30 pages or so were pretty intense (and highly disturbing). Throughout the book I followed along with Mason and Laila as they tried to solve the mystery of Laila’s identity. For the most part I followed the twists and turns, but it seemed like the loose ends found too neat of an ending. As soon as Mason met Dr. Emerson all of his questions were answered. It only took about three pages. That was disappointing. There seemed to be a huge build up to who (or what) Laila was, and then poof, the mystery was solved. I would have liked to see Mason struggle with his hero complex a little more. More chase scenes would have been nice too. The TroDyn workers gave up too easily after the near miss at the cabin. I felt that if Laila was such a valuable commodity, there should at least be a valid chase. Alas, there was not.
On a positive note, however, the concept of the book was something straight out of a Hollywood horror film. The thought of scientists growing people to be a genetically altered race of humans was disturbing (to say the least). Some of the concepts seemed a little far-fetched, but the premise behind the experiments made sense. Producing a group of humans that could make their own nutrients from the sun (like plants) would solve the problem of diminishing natural resources and wide spread famine—both of which are actual problems that we face. It was certainly a unique solution to a viable problem. Also, I enjoyed some of the characters in the book. Although it seemed likely to sympathize with Mason and Laila, they really didn’t move me. I didn’t feel much for them one way or another. In fact, I felt neutral. However, I did respond to Eve and the Gardener—two of the most disturbing characters I have ever read about.
I find it very ironic that Eve has the name that she does. She certainly does not invoke the image of the Eve that first came to my mind. This Eve is pure evil. She manipulates situations, lies, tries to kill people, and even donated her own child to the research for a chance at immortality! Not exactly the Biblical image I associate Eve with. The author does a good job of showing her as a cold, uncaring person. Upon the first encounter with her that is exactly the feeling that I got. In contrast, the Gardener was pitiful. Throughout the book you are made to think that the Gardener is a horrible monster. When I finally met his character, I found myself feeling pity for him. He seemed weak and lonely, but at the same time compassionate. After all, his experiment started as a way to eliminate starvation because he was once a child who suffered the effects of famine in a third-world country.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I don’t tend to enjoy science-fiction, but this was a surprisingly good read for me. The book’s originality earns an A+ for concept, but the characters waiver between mediocre and lackluster for me. The plot moved quickly enough to make it an easy read, but it seemed underdeveloped at times. I ended up giving it a 3 ½ since it did make me think about the positive and negative of scientific advancements and the tendency to exploit discoveries for personal gain. If there ends up being a sequel to this book I would read it, just to see what happens to Laila when she stabilizes.