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Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Poison Diaries, written by Maryrose Wood. Balzer & Bray, Harper, 2010. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"After Father goes, I find Weed in the herb garden, sitting very still among the plants. I bring him some water. He takes it with a look of gratitude but says nothing, and I have no choice but to leave him be. An hour goes by, then another. At times I swear I can hear him speaking quietly - but with whom?"

I was not prepared to like this book, and I cannot tell you why. Luckily, I gave it a chance to capture my attention and provide me with yet another worthwhile read. I liked the writing right from the beginning.

Jessamine lives a quiet and often lonely life while her father, a stern and harsh apothecary, moves among the people of their community helping heal and cure illness. He is obsessed with his gardens, and works diligently to find power in plants, especially the poison plants in his apothecary garden. Jessamine is not allowed entrance!

When Weed arrives, as a scrawny bundle on the back of a horse, he brings with him mystery and uncertainty, and an uncanny ability to use plants for good. There is an element of evil and darkness that arrives with him; but Weed is an engaging young man whose heart is good. He and Jessamine fall deeply in love with each other. However, the course of that love is not smooth. Mr. Luxton is enamored of Weed's healing ways and uses their love to entice Weed to share his knowledge. It even leads him to allow both young people to finally enter the poison garden:

"And yet, as I look about, I am forced to admit: On its surface, the apothecary garden is not so very different from any other garden. There is the smell of rich earth, the green plants growing quietly in their beds, the soft hum of bees making their rounds."

When Jessamine falls deathly ill, we learn much about the evil that is in the world. It becomes a story of sacrifice made in the name of love and the lengths to which people will go to get what they want. The abrupt and surprise ending will leave readers wanting more of the story. Since it is planned as a series, we hopefully won't have to wait too long.

Maryrose Wood is a wonderful writer. Her language is inspired and her setting realized through dramatic word choice and exceptional description. She has created memorable characters, especially Weed and Oleander, whose battle will live long in your memory. I hope to meet them both again!

The Poison Diaries was inspired by the current Duchess of Northumberland's public English gardens, and an idea that she had for a story set there. You can hear more by searching The Poison Diaries on YouTube. There is a wonderful trailer and an interview with the Duchess. And if you are ever in the north of England, you might want to visit Alnwick Castle and her Poison Garden created there.

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