Full of mystery, period detail and tenderness, 'The Garden of Lost Secrets' by A.M. Howell is an impressive debut. Classic in tone, with similarities to Emma Carroll's books, this is children's historical fiction at its finest.
It is 1916 and it's the height of World War One. With her father injured from battle, Clara is sent to live with her formidable aunt and uncle on an Earl's large estate. But secrets reside in the gardens and hothouses. Fruit is mysteriously left around the grounds. A boy comes out only at night. A door is always closed in the house. And just what secrets will be revealed in the letter in Clara's pocket, which she can't bear to read?
This is one of those stories which are a real page-turner because questions, questions and more questions mount - and you are desperate for answers! Thankfully the mystery is brilliantly developed, while dripping with atmosphere and period detail. And the resolution is hugely satisfying with all the story 'plants' being untangled, all the threads of the tapestry pulled loose. It makes for addictive reading. The ending is also unexpected in quite a dramatic way.
A.M. Howell has a particular skill in writing from a child's perspective. Everything is uncertain, exciting, frightening and mysterious. Clara is a great character who exists in that in-between of needing to be protected but also desperate for the truth from the adult world. Every character is complex and beautifully rendered too. Under the stiffness and formality of everyday life, there is also warmth and kindness glowing underneath it all. A.M Howell writes convincingly and poetically, capturing the realism and difficulties of the times with a slice of hope under its skin.
Gripping, beautiful, tender and rich with detail, 'The Garden of Lost Secrets' is another brilliant book from Usborne.