JOPLIN, Mo. —
In "The Gardener" by S.A. Bodeen, everyone in the small town of Melby Falls is enamored of TroDyn Industries, the huge company trying to solve the world's environmental problems in its complex of labs.
Everyone except for Mason's mother, who works at the nursing home in town. When Mason snoops into his mother's locked filing cabinet and discovers her hidden TroDyn Industries ID badge, he storms into the nursing home and demands answers.
Instead of answers about his mother's past, Mason discovers that his mother doesn't take care of the elderly as he assumed. She takes care of comatose teenagers. When one of these teenagers, the most beautiful person Mason has ever seen, mysteriously wakes up and demands to be taken away from the nursing home, Mason (who has a bit of a hero complex) is all too willing to oblige.
Thus begins an escape/adventure/quest for answers that unfolds at breakneck speed and takes place over a very short period of time.
Bodeen does a good job of laying out an intriguing and could-almost-be-true premise. There are some interesting concepts that inform the premise as well as issues of climate change and overpopulation. Sometimes these issues are addressed heavy-handedly, but for the characters who are obsessed with them, it's a believable heavy-handedness.
Bodeen's focus with "The Gardener" is more on Mason's journey and the ethical questions raised in the book, so characterizations are naturally light. Mason is believable with believable motivations Ñ we've all met the "knight in shining armor" types.
But secondary characters exist mainly to move the story along.
These characters provide transportation, shelter and answers when the plot needs them to. Even Laila, our damsel in distress, is a flat character.
The lack of character development will probably not matter to readers who are more interested in a lightning-fast plot with some thought-provoking scientific and ethical issues thrown in for thought and discussion.
"The Gardner" is a solid choice for reluctant readers who are looking for a quick adventure. It might also interest teens who like biology, ethical dilemmas or are interested in environmental issues. Avid readers will figure out where the story is going long before Mason does and might be a little frustrated that he isn't a little quicker.
The audiobook version of "The Gardener" is worth a listen Ñ especially for reluctant readers. Its narrator, Luke Daniels, captures Mason's voice very well and does a good job of distinctly voicing each character.
"Don't Sit on the Baby: The Ultimate Guide to Sane, Skilled and Safe Babysitting," by Halley Bondy is an excellent little book about babysitting. It's pretty slim, but it covers the basics very well. It includes what babysitters should expect from children ages 0-10 years, diaper time, bath time and meal time. It also includes sections on building resumes, what salary to expect and how to quit a job.
It's all here. Even safety and life-saving techniques (though those really are better learned in person than from a book).
The conversational style will make this a go-to book for young sitters. Bondy even includes a couple of recipes! Resources are in the back for further training including the Red Cross Babysitter Training Course and some emergency numbers.
"Don't Sit on the Baby" should also be a must-read for parents looking for babysitters since it covers what sitters should expect from parents (and therefore what parents should expect from sitters). I found the discussion of salaries very helpful because that was the most difficult and awkward thing for me as both a babysitter and a parent.
Cari Rerat is teen librarian for the Joplin Public Library.