09 June 2011

Post 391: The Girl in the Garden

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair. ISBN: 9780446572682 (eGalley - publishes June 15, 2011).

I'm sure most of us have overheard some conversation between a couple of kids along the lines of, "My dad can beat up your dad." "Nuh-UH!" But how many of us remember being the kid to say that? Or at least something along those lines. Do you remember the moment you realized your parents were just average people who made mistakes?

The Girl in the Garden actually depicts this particular right of passage for a young second generation American named Rakhee. The girl obviously idolizes her mother and father, as well as their relationship. She is convinced that no two people were ever more in love, until it starts falling apart. Rakhee, being only 10 and 11 years old in the story, believes she can fix her parents' marriage, but of course in the process learns that they are not the people she thought they were.

I think this transition was handled well throughout the story. We definitely get an appropriate sense of reverence from Rakhee regarding her mother and father which slowly deteriorates throughout the story as signs of her mother's depression begin showing and then other secrets are revealed. Her reverence for her father is especially interesting since he is more remote, yet there is still the desire to prove herself to him, to be "grown up" enough to go to the lab with him and watch his work, etc. Rakhee's eventual understanding of her parents' humanness is something we can all relate to, even if we did not go through such drastic family drama, and Nair selected the perfect age for this transition to occur.

I recall my own Human Parent* moments at about that age. It occurred first for my father who was often unemployed, but up until I was about 10 he still behaved as a father should. He would make sure we had snacks after school, he cleaned the house, at the very least he asked us how our day was. After I turned 10 (and hit puberty early and hard), things started to change. He became moodier and less interested in being part of the family. He had more trouble finding and keeping work (when he even bothered to try), and he not-so-slowly became completely disengaged from us. By the time he was ready to be hospitalized for mental illness, I had already come to the conclusion that parenthood did not equal perfection, and therefore the life choices and moral codes of my parents were not necessarily The Right Ones.

It took me a little longer to realize this with my mother, but once again, around the same time. Part of this was her struggle to balance her military career with her family life. She practically had no social life or hobbies during the time she was trying to make first Captain and then Major (Air Force). This didn't matter so much until my father began to withdraw and we really started noticing her absence as well. The increased pressure caused her to anger more quickly and occasionally lash out verbally, yelling and/or cursing. Not to make excuses for her, but I understand her behavior and how difficult it must have been to feel like she was not only providing for a family by herself, but also raising one alone. While I was not the problem child in the household, I did on occasion try to hold her accountable for my brother's lack of discipline, especially when it directly affected me. Because this was not supposed to be my role in the family, it became much harder to respect her as an authority figure, and so my mother too was subjected to the Human Parent moment.

Does anyone else have a moment where you can clearly remember seeing your parent as human for the first time?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by NetGalley.
*I pretty much pulled this term from thin air. It's possible there's a more widely accepted term somewhere else, but I do enough research and whatnot for this blog as it is. So there.


  1. What a great review! I'm definitely intrigued by this book. As you said, we all have those 'Human Parent' moments, so I think many people could relate to the story. Plus, the cover is absolutely gorgeous! Definitely draws me in.

  2. The cover was a big factor for me as well. I didn't even realize it was about a 2nd generation American East Indian until I started reading it. Otherwise I probably would have read something else directly after reading Jhumpa Lapiri's "Unaccustomed Earth." I find it difficult to accurately judge books on similar topics when I've read a lot of the same thing back to back. That's part of why I have such an eclectic reading style.


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