The Girls in the Garden starts out with a party and a girl in a coma. Pip and Grace are brought to the Victoria Park development to live after their father goes into a hospital for his mental illness. Their mother is a bit distracted and they make friends with the other kids in the complex- there's a mix of upscale and more modest homes and they all back onto a communal garden area, complete with a rose garden and paths and even an enclosed "secret" garden. It sounds like a wonderful place for kids to hang out- but one night after a summer party in the park Grace is found unconscious- and there are signs of an assault.
The story is told from the point of view of Pip, her mother Clare, and Adele who lives across the park. Clare deals with being a single mom while Adele has a beautiful home, three daughters that she homeschools, and a husband who is popular with the kids- perhaps too popular with some of them. Grace is hospitalized after the incident and while Clare and Pip try to hold it together, and figure out what happened, it's Adele who starts digging into the secrets and lies that permeate the community, even as the police are doing the same thing. I loved switching from Pip's perspective to Adele's- both had fascinating personalities and such a different perspective on things, and both were equally compelling.
This story explores the question of how well do you really know someone- your kids, a husband or wife, family? Adele realizes over time that in some ways she doesn't know her kids at all- even though they live together, the kids have their own world in the park and it's a little scary to realize that in real life there's a lot of things we don't know about the people closest to us. To me that was the message of the book- how much do you really know? And does it matter? Here it clearly matters as we slowly learn more about what happened that summer night.
There are some chilling moments towards the end where we discover things that tie everything together, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what happened. Each revelation was a peek into a society centered around the park, where kids grow up too fast and parents don't realize it, where clues and links to past events provide a context to what happened. The only real complaint I have is the explanation at the end seemed a little bit contrived, perhaps a smidgen unrealistic considering how young the kids are, but overall this was a fantastic read that explores family and kids and what happens when it all goes wrong. One of my favorite reads of the year.