Summary: [if i had written the back cover blurb]
This book is about Clare, a girl on the brink of womanhood, whose life is unexpectedly transformed over a single summer as she discovers both who she is and who she is meant to become. Moving with her mother from London to a hidden village (Ravensmere) in rural Britain, she is faced with a familial past she had never been told about, but whose existence is pivotal to everything in her future. It is here that she also meets Mark, a boy rebel, whose fate is just as firmly bound to the Ravensmere estate as it is to Clare’s. Together, they try to uncover the secrets of the estate past before its curse dooms their future.
Review: Overall, The China Garden is a satisfying if slightly mundane. Meeting contemporary YA standards, the story has a little bit of everything it in: mystery, romance, and fantasy. Compared to recent over-hyped-on-the-supernatural publications, this work can be classified as nothing more than a conservative fantasy. Our heroine (Clare) is simply endowed with brief visions and random moments of telepathy, freeing her character from excessively thinking about her ‘gift’ so that she can spend more time exploring the mysteries of the Revensmere estate, a land both lovely and cursed. The descriptions of Clare’s lonely ventures in this magical landscape are where the author truly shines; Berry clearly has much love for old and decrepit estates on the English mores.
Clare is maintained as the story’s sole focus for the first 100 pages of the book, which allow her to emerge as someone very relatable: Clare is a smart, college-bound, middle-class, restless with her youth, and confused about her future. Her plump character development gives the reader hope for more of the same from Mark, her romantic counterpart. Alas, when he finally makes his introduction, Berry overwhelms us with his physical description (a muscular biker boy with long hair and light eyes) and not much else. The relationship that develops between the teens is rather speedy. Trying to tie the magic of the estate to their romance, Berry makes Clare and Mark innately connected to each other in a way that turns them from strangers to lovers in the instant it takes their eyes to meet. A very non-epic romance follows and the reader quickly understands that the only intrigue remaining in the plot is uncovering Revensmere’s secret.
It seems that Berry’s goal in The China Garden was to make her teen heroine embrace adulthood and womanhood by being confronted with a past once hidden. It’s hard to assess Clare’s success; the more she discovers, the more she oscillates between mature and childish feelings. In the end, there is sense that both Clare and Mark are too young to properly handle the circumstances Berry dreams up for them. For me, this would have been a better story had it been set in the past with older characters.
Lit Snit Verdict: F