Gardenias by Faith Sullivan

There is a running joke about the weight of my vacation book bag(s) among my friends, particularly the friends that help me carry them.  A suggestion was made for me to consider paperbacks this year.  What?  I like to read new books, hardcover and hot off the press! (Also, an easy trick to be sure I haven’t already read a book.)  But, to be a team player, I decided to look at some paperbacks, and came across Gardenias, a 2006 novel by author Faith Sullivan.  Gardenias is told from the point of view of Lark, a 10ish year old girl whose mother, Arlene, and aunt, Betty, flee their husbands in Minnesota for promise of a better, more fulfilling life in California.  The three manage to get a place in a development built to house people working at Consolidated, and both women find jobs.  The development known as “The Project” is wartime housing, and is filled with semi-transient people, uprooted during World War II.  The reader gets to know them through their interactions with Lark and her mother.

Lark is our narrator, and her voice is stunning and poignant, reminiscent of classic child narrators.  She meets Shirley, a completely neglected, rude and outspoken girl from the neighborhood, who comes and goes without invitation.  When Arlene buys a second-hand piano, Betty begins to teach Shirley.  Shirley is musically gifted, and practicing the piano is somewhat of a saving grace in her troubled life.  While Lark doesn’t want to learn the piano, she resents the attention Shirley receives, and resents Shirley in general. Her mom and aunt are always tolerant of Shirley, if not down right kind to her.  The rest of the world is not.

Gardenias is the continuation of the story started in The Cape Ann.  The characters are richly developed, and their resolutions I could accept.  The book is a pensive one, but one worth reading.