The Night Gardener
By Jonathan Auxier, Puffin Canada, 368 pages, $19.99
Auxier's first book, Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes was such a well-told delight; The Night Gardener, in turn, is no disappointment. Very imaginative and clever, with traditional fairy-tale storytelling, it's a richly spooky read. Red-haired Molly and Kip are Irish siblings, separated from their parents after a shipwreck during the Potato Famine. They are hired to work as servants in the dilapidated Windsor Estate in England, where nothing seems quite right. The family they stay with seem cursed; the surrounding woods are completely birdless. Skewing a bit older (and maybe a bit scarier) than middle grade, it is much more a fable about avarice and the inherent goodness in storytelling than anything else, and more Sleepy Hollow and Jane Eyre than Harry Potter. It's very refreshing to find such a comprehensive story in a standalone book, especially one with humour, kindness, and some real evil.
By Sarah Ellis, Groundwood Books, 176 pages, $16.95
Sarah Ellis has been writing books for young readers for decades (some may remember Pick-Up Sticks from the early 1990s). Excelling at carefully, expertly crafted books about the subtle difficulties of growing up, friendship, and families, Outside In has a particular twist. Lynn lives with her irritatingly free-spirited mother, Shakti, and the story opens just as her partner has left, upsetting the stability that Lynn had been enjoying for several years. She meets Blossom, whose family covertly lives in an underground bunker and barters for everything. Their friendship changes Lynn's view of the world and what a life can mean. However, the challenge to keep the family's existence a secret may be too great for Lynn. A wonderful, unique story about love and beauty.
Dreamer, Wisher, Liar
By Charise Mericle Harper, Balzer & Bray, 244 pages $21
Told in Ashley's matter-of-fact, funny voice, Dreamer, Wisher, Liar reads like a window into the mind of a particular young girl. Afflicted by face blindness, Ashley dislikes meeting new people, and her only friend is moving away. Her mother surprises her by inviting an odd, spritely seven-year-old named Claire to stay for the summer, to Ashley's dismay. However, she finds herself surprisingly captivated by Claire's determined cheerfulness and learns to be a friend in a new way. There is an unexpected little bit of magic, but fans of more realistic fiction will not be put off. Really quite charming.