Plot/Idea: In the Garden of Sorrows centers on the decline of Isabel’s marriage after the death of her son. Significant events occur (the introduction of Reverend Kane in particular), but these events surround and contextualize this main theme in a clearly intentional manner. Jewell sparks many questions for readers, some of which are not definitively answered, but the plot is engaging and complex.
Prose: Dialogue flows naturally throughout, and Jewell's prose sets scenes with ease. There are multiple intimate scenes within the text, and in these cases, the level of detail has more in common with romance novels than general fiction.
Originality: In the Garden of Sorrows takes on issues that are more typically addressed in novels set in the present day: the loss of a child, the decline of a marriage, and sexual assault. By setting these life events within the context of the 1920s, the novel acknowledges that these issues occur throughout time without being dogmatic about it—the characters simply deal with the issues as they arise, and the novel bears witness.
Character/Execution: Main character Isabel is explored in full. We see her as wife, mother, neighbor, and lover throughout the course of the novel. Her gift of sight is treated as objective fact, rather than something extraordinary, and the conversations with her deceased mother and son also provide insight into her character. Other characters are given enough backstory to firmly root them within their scenes.
Date Submitted: May 31, 2023
Many historical novels about the Great Wars focus on surviving the wars themselves. In her debut, Jewell takes the lesser-known path of examining how a person copes with the loss of a loved one after the war is over, as everyday life resumes something like normalcy, Jewell shows how difficult it is for Isabel to process her grief. Kane, as a newcomer to the community, allows her to do so, but their relationship creates new conflict. Meanwhile, a compelling subplot involving the local Piggott family, whose daughter Caroline becomes close with Isabel while facing a devastating loss of her own, stands as a jolting reminder that horror and danger aren’t limited to the theater of war.
Jewell’s prose is assured and inviting, laying bare the hearts of these characters and conjuring a convincingly detailed past and its beliefs and revivals, reminding us that once a dime bought a Hershey Bar and a Coca-Cola, all while maintaining a sense of narrative momentum. Powered by richly touching connections between Jewell's people, the novel pulses with feeling.
Takeaway: Stirring novel about a grieving mother, a charming reverend, and temptation.
Comparable Titles: Caroline Scott’s The Poppy Wife, Jennifer Robson’s After the War Is Over.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A