The Gardener

The Gardener

4.4 70
by S. A. Bodeen

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Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children's book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers

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Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children's book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs--genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don't need food or water to survive. And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.

Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he's longed for most?
The Gardener is a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews


Author S.A. Bodeen has laced this sci-fi-tinged page-turner with thoughtful commentary on world hunger, sustainability, biology and biomedical ethics, plus several high-speed chases and a believable budding romance, and the whole thing works like a charm.
Publishers Weekly
Bodeen follows her riveting debut novel, The Compound (2008), with another high-concept thriller. Fifteen-year-old Mason, a “hulking, quiet guy” with a disfiguring facial scar, dreams of majoring in biology at Stanford. To do so, he’ll have to hitch his star to TroDyn, the local bioengineering firm known for its support of future scientists. But Mason’s alcoholic mother violently objects to his applying for TroDyn’s internship, and Mason’s father is out of the picture. When Mason discovers a secret that his mother’s been hiding, he confronts her at her job at a nursing home (owned by TroDyn) and learns that she cares for four catatonic teenagers, one of whom--a scared, stunningly beautiful girl--awakens and escapes, with Mason’s help. All paths lead to TroDyn and a secret project that involves creating autotrophs--organisms that can create their own food, a theoretical solution to coming world famine. A preponderance of coincidences and a too-tidy epilogue mar a fast-paced, meaty read that asks readers to consider the costs of science overstepping its bounds, even in pursuit of the noblest goals. Ages 12-up. (June)
Booklist on The Compound
Debut novelist Bodeen effectively builds the claustrophobic suspense with each chapter as readers slowly discover the Compound is not the refuge it seems. Combining elements of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Running Out of Time (1995) and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (2005), published for adults, this post-apocalyptic thriller will also pique the interest of Nancy Werlin and L.J. Adlington fans.
VOYA - Mary Arnold
Melby Falls is a company town and the company, Tro-Dyne, a scientific research facility, turns out to have some sinister secrets. But, Mason doesn't know that—yet. He doesn't know his father, either, except for a shadowy videotape of him reading The Runaway Bunny. He doesn't know why his mom works for minimum wage at the company nursing home—the same company she doesn't want Mason connected with at all. What he does know is that if he wants to go to college, he needs the scholarship Tro-Dyne offers, even if he must agree to work for them after graduation. Then, Mason visits his mom at work and Tro-Dyne's secrets start him on a breakneck race to save Laila, a comatose teen suddenly awakened with great fear of a person she knows only as "The Gardener." Part dystopian science fiction and part horror, The Gardener provides an eerie look at the possible outcomes of timely issues and doomsday scenarios around overpopulation, mass starvation, and genetic engineering. Mason is an engaging protagonist, a hero—scarred physically and emotionally—who, once galvanized, refuses to give up or in until he has the answers he needs, even as he desperately fears what he may learn. While not the most groundbreaking look at survival of the fittest, this is a fast-paced read that keeps readers guessing what the turn of a page will reveal. Fans of Shusterman's Unwind (Simon & Schuster, 2007/VOYA October 2007) and Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Henry Holt, 2008/VOYA August 2008) will be intrigued. Reviewer: Mary Arnold
Children's Literature - Hazel Buys
The innocent lines from Margaret Wise Brown's Runaway Bunny describe a chilling secret worthy of Stephen King. "... I will be a gardener. And I will find you." His favorite nursery story since childhood, fifteen year old Mason even has a DVD of his long-departed father reciting it. Mason, cursed with a terrible facial scar from an early injury, is blessed with a football player's physique. He is a gentle giant, a blend of home-town hero and Scarface. When Mason plays his DVD for a group of brain-injured teens at a nursing home, he sets off a chain of events as bizarre as they are unexpected. The set-up and transition from life-as-usual into science fiction and mystery is well done and plausible. Thrown into the middle of a strange plot to save humanity from starvation, Mason finds that the sacrifices required are too awful to contemplate. His efforts to find a solution pits the black/white moral code of his youth against the professed altruism of the adults around him: is it better to save one life or many? Blended with questions and concerns about over-population, global warming, widespread famine, the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of parenthood, this book packs a mother lode of contemporary issues into a fast-paced plot filled with engaging characters and a believable world of space-age botany. It would be good addition to a summer reading list or an extra-credit option in a botany class (which students may suddenly be lining up to take!). Reviewer: Hazel Buys
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—On a visit to the nursing home in which his mother works, Mason discovers that her job does not involve caring for the elderly patients as he imagined, but for several apparently catatonic teenagers. When his mother steps away, one of the teens awakens in response to a DVD that he puts on. She suffers from amnesia but somehow knows she must escape her current environment and begs Mason for his help. He suddenly finds himself on the run from TroDyn Industries, the scientific corporation that owns most of his town. It has been using the girl as part of some sort of research—but what kind? And might there be some link to the father Mason has never met? Much of the suspense the novel tries to build is undermined by heavy foreshadowing and the image and tagline on the book's cover. A plot twist at the end depends on the scheming of a newly introduced character and falls flat. Reluctant readers might overlook these flaws in favor of a quick read with a likable protagonist and a juicy premise, but James Dashner's Maze Runner (Random, 2009) and William Sleator's House of Stairs (Dutton, 1985) are stronger stories about scientific experiments performed on teens.—Hayden Bass, Seattle Public Library, WA
Kirkus Reviews
Inspired imagination overcomes uninspired writing to keep this futuristic story trotting along. Fifteen-year-old Mason, with a badly scarred face and a football lineman's body, loves biology and desperately wants to go to college. However, his mother detests the local megacorporation, TroDyn, which offers Mason the easiest route to his goal. Things go awry when Mason goes to assist his mother at her TroDyn job and winds up helping a strange, beautiful girl escape from the facility. The girl seems to be a human imbued with plant-like qualities so she can photosynthesize food instead of eating. It's an original idea, left mostly undeveloped. Although Bodeen explores the obvious ethical concerns, she avoids a plunge into real speculative fiction by making her novel primarily a fairly suspenseful, escape-the-villains story, complete with one entirely evil, entirely cardboard antagonist. Mason, his buddy Jack and the girl come across well as characters, but it's essentially B-level stuff. Nevertheless, it's enjoyable, escapist fare that many readers will enjoy. (Science fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Square Fish
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5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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The Gardener

By S. A. Bodeen

Feiwel and Friends

Copyright © 2010 S. A. Bodeen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4773-2


In the last hour of the day, Mr. Hogan's sophomore biology class gathered around to watch the small, green-dotted frilly snail slime its way up my arm. Taller than everyone, I looked down on heads as smells drifted up. To my left, someone had taco breath from lunch. And somewhere to my right was definitely the culprit who'd ripped the little sample of men's cologne out of the school library's latest issue of Sports Illustrated.

Hogan rolled his wheelchair closer. Fridays were T-shirt day for the teachers if they paid a buck to the party fund in the office, and his declared Soylent Green Is People! "So this intertidal nudibranch is not just any marine snail."

"Looks like it has a little green wig," said one of the girls.

Our teacher continued. "This snail can photosynthesize. Which means?"

As always, Miranda Collins blurted out the answer before anyone else could. "When a plant uses sunlight to make its own food." Suck-up.

"But this isn't a plant." I couldn't tell who said that, but I was wondering the same thing.

"Aha, we have a genius!" Hogan pointed at the snail. "That is not a plant. But it eats zooxanthellae, organisms that eat algae. And algae, of course, are plants."

"That makes no sense." Although my eyes were on the snail, I felt heads turn up in my direction and it got quiet. Odd for teenagers, but it probably had to do with the fact that, after the dog incident, I didn't speak in school until fifth grade. I'm not sure if it was due to the trauma, although that's what both the speech pathologist and school psychiatrist told my mom. I think it was more a matter of my not having much to say. But since then, when I did open my mouth in class, it was still considered a bit of a novelty, I guess, because everyone tended to get quiet and listen. "I mean, I eat plants, but I can't photosynthesize. Humans are ..." I searched for the word we'd just learned that describes organisms that have to get their nutrients from other organisms. "Heterotrophic. We can't feed ourselves."

Hogan nodded. "Exactly. The zooxanthellae evolved so they could retain the cells of the algae, which are responsible for photosynthesis. Evolution, anyone?"

"Changes that take place in a species over time." Miranda again.

"Exactly. And so in the case of the zooxanthellae, you are what you eat. They became autotrophic. Self-feeders. And the nudibranchs have evolved to do the same thing."

"Mr. Hogan?" Miranda Collins waved her hand. "Is this on the quiz?" He growled at her. "Not everything is on the quiz, but that doesn't mean it's not worth knowing."

I moved my arm closer and stared at the snail. "So why is this worth knowing?"

"Well, technically, this proves that an organism can turn autotrophic." He pointed at my arm. "Skin graft those snails all over your body in a sunny climate and eventually you wouldn't have to eat or drink ever again."

A few of the girls let out groans and prolonged ewwwws, while some of the boys laughed.

"No, thanks. I like cheeseburgers too much." I gently picked the snail off my arm and set it in the glass tank on Hogan's desk.

"Thanks, Mason." Hogan rolled back behind his desk as we took our seats. "Anyone heard of Giri Bala?"

Most of us either shook our heads or didn't respond at all.

With a remote, he turned on the projector, starting a black-and-white PowerPoint. The first grainy photo showed two old women wrapped in loose, robe-type garments. "This is India, 1936. The woman on the right is Giri Bala, born in 1868."

Jack Meacham sat across the aisle from me. We'd been best friends since kindergarten. Kids had kind of shied away when I stopped speaking, but Jack talked so much he didn't seem to notice I wasn't saying anything. And when we started doing stuff at my house or his, he realized I did have things to say. But in school, he spoke for both of us until fifth grade, when I finally started talking again. I'd gradually outgrown him, and everyone else, by about eighty pounds and six inches. Two pairs of his Levi's sewn together might just encase one of my thighs. He raised his hand. "Who was she?"

Hogan grinned. "You mean who is she?"

Jack glanced at me, and then lines appeared between his eyebrows. "If she was born in 1868, she'd be, like ..."

I could see him doing the math in his head. Although Jack had high aspirations to become a doctor, he struggled in school. Not for lack of trying. He was really smart but just had some kind of mental block on test days. He shook his head slightly. "Well, she'd be way over one hundred. Impossible."

"Maybe not." Hogan clasped his hands together. "At the time this photo was taken, Giri Bala had not eaten for fifty-six years."

The class erupted with sounds of disbelief. I even let loose with a "No way."

Holding up his hand for silence, Hogan explained. "She supposedly used a yoga technique that allowed her to get her energy from the sun. The leader of her province actually locked her in a room for several days with no food or water, and she was perfectly fine. And some people say she's still alive."

The next picture came up, a view of Moscow and the Kremlin. "There's a group of people living in Moscow who claim to be autotrophs. They started out as vegans, gradually stopped eating all food, and now claim they neither eat nor drink."

I shook my head as someone called out, "That's crazy."

"Maybe so." Hogan nodded. "But one scientist claims he can take a human, put him in a tropical climate, and turn his body into a living solar cell within two years."

Jack raised his hand. Even in classes like Hogan's, where we were allowed to just speak up if we had something productive to say, Jack still raised his hand every time he had something to say. "But why would you want to do that? Save your lunch money or something?"

Hogan smiled. "Think about it, Jack. Imagine having an army you don't have to feed or water."

The bell rang. "Don't forget, quiz on Monday!" A few groans erupted, and before I could get up, Hogan called my name. "See me after class."

I asked Jack if he could give me a ride home.

He nodded and said, "Meet you in the parking lot."

Everyone filed out and I went up to the front. Hogan held up a sheet I recognized, the application form for the TroDyn summer science program. He shook it at me. "You know the deadline is coming up for this?"

TroDyn Industries was a huge scientific complex on a hundred acres looking over Melby Falls. Mainly working on environmental sustainability projects, the company supported the town. Although they didn't employ many townspeople at their lab facilities, TroDyn owned most of the businesses, including the nursing home where my mom worked, and they paid for a lot of equipment and supplies at the school. I'd read about the summer program, and Hogan had told us about it several times. "My mom would never go for it. She's not a TroDyn fan." It might just be a case of not liking the company responsible for your sucky job, but she had no lack of bad things to say about them.

Hogan tapped the paper with a finger. "If you do the summer program, you'll have a good shot at the TroDyn scholarship." His eyes met mine, but not in a forced way. I mean, some people stare at my scar. I don't mind, at least it's honest, and when they've seen enough, they meet my eyes. But the ones who lock eyes with me, those are the dishonest ones. You can almost hear them chanting to themselves Don't look at his scar, don't look at his scar. Hogan's eyes met mine the way his eyes met anyone else's.

I shrugged. "I'm not really sure about college."

"Mason, come on." Hogan waved the paper. "You're one of the smartest kids I've ever had in class."

"Miranda Collins is smarter."

Hogan rolled his eyes. "I suspect Miranda Collins gets A's because she spends three hours a night memorizing textbooks. Probably polishes a lot of apples while she's at it. A potato could do that and get A's. You actually understand this stuff. You get it. You need to go to college and learn more."

I didn't say anything.

"They'll cover all your college expenses through grad school. They would pay for Stanford."

I rolled my eyes. "Like I'd get into Stanford."

"I've seen your standardized test scores. On the SAT, you'll smoke kids like Miranda Collins. You'll get in." He flipped the paper onto the desk, where it settled next to the stapler. "All they ask in return is that you commit to working five years in their labs."

Other than getting my mom on board, I didn't see the problem with that. I looked around at his biology room, my favorite place in the school. The shelves were lined with not only glossy books but pristine specimens in glass jars of whatever the liquid was that replaced formaldehyde. I'd always been drawn to the framed glass cases that housed expensive collections of bugs and butterflies and spiders. A bank of desktop computers lined one wall, and I knew them to be loaded with more biological research software than most college libraries held, courtesy of TroDyn.

I'd be lying to say I didn't want to go to college. I'd also be lying to say I didn't really really like biology. Going to Stanford to study biology, on a full ride no less, would be a dream come true. But it wasn't easy for me to put my dreams out for everyone to see. I preferred to keep them to myself so only I was disappointed when they didn't happen. That way, I didn't have to have people telling me how sorry they were for me. I'd had enough of that to last my entire life.

Trying to shift the focus, I asked, "Do they bribe you to talk kids into this?"

He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "You're right. I mean, you can probably get a scholarship another way. Not to Stanford, but you're the best offensive tackle Melby Falls has seen in a while."

I saw his point. "Yeah, that just might pay for my books at a junior college." I picked up the application, pretending to read as if I'd never seen it before, when actually there was one half filled out in my locker, plus three extras at home, hidden in my copy of last year's yearbook.

He leaned back. "Think about it."

"Okay." I smiled.

He shrugged. "Come on, Al Gore gave them that award last year for making progress with global warming research. They do a lot of good things up there. You could save the world someday."

"Yeah, right." I shoved the application into my biology book.

"Due Monday!" he called after me.

Out in the hall at my locker, I hooked my backpack on my arm and hoisted it over my shoulder. My locker clicked shut just as I heard one in the junior high hallway bang a couple of times. And then I heard a muffled cry.

In two steps, I was around the corner. Two smaller boys were up against the lockers as a bigger boy stood in front of them, a hand over one boy's mouth.


They all turned and looked at me. The bigger one dropped his hand and stepped back. I'd seen him around, was named Wendell or Walker or something like that.

"Problem here?"

The two against the lockers shook their heads while the other one crossed his arms. "Oh, hey, Mason. No, no problem."

Taking a few steps closer, I said, "To me, it looks like there's a problem."

The bigger kid's eyes darted around and he began backing away from me.

I told the smaller boys, "Go home."

They both nodded and ran as I walked toward the other kid and backed him into the wall. There were still a few feet between us, but he was breathing harder and his eyes were wide. And why not? Most kids who didn't know me very well kept their distance. I was big, and my scar made my face look scary. But I used it to my advantage on bullies like him.

"You need to leave those kids alone."

He nodded.

"Seriously. I catch you picking on anyone else ..." For effect, I made a fist and covered it with my other hand. "Got it?"

He didn't say anything, just ran off down the hall.

I smiled as I dropped my hands. Off the football field, I would never think of hurting anyone, but most people probably didn't know that. They just saw a big, Halloween-masked hulk of a guy. But what a rush, to save people. The first time was when I was in fifth grade. After school, I usually headed to the Bottoms, a forest walking trail. One day I heard someone calling for help. Going off the trail a ways, I found a couple of second-grade girls. They'd been messing around, playing by a pile of logs, and one girl had gotten her foot caught. So I managed to roll the log off and carried the girl all the way back to the school. Her grandma was one of the teachers, and I got my picture in the paper. That part was kind of weird. I don't like my picture getting taken, and I made sure to turn my head so only my good side showed. The coolest part for me was just seeing the relief on the face of the grandma when she hugged the kids, especially when things could have turned out differently. Being responsible for the happy ending made me happy.

After that, I saved people every chance I got.

Outside, there was a light drizzle, and I jogged to where Jack waited for me in his red truck, Deep Purple turned up so high that I'd heard it the second I'd stepped outside. "Thanks for waiting." Jack and I shared a lot of the same tastes, including the one for old rock music.

I reached over and turned the volume up even more.

Although he got the Ford for his birthday a couple of months before, the inside still smelled new. His dad owned a chain of plumbing supply stores in the Pacific Northwest; Jack was rich and could pay for any college he got into. But with his grades, the problem was getting in. So he worried about things like SAT scores while I worried about my bank account.

I asked, "What time are we leaving?"

Jack's family owned a cabin up in Glenwood, at the foot of Mount Adams, and we planned to head up there for the weekend to go ATV'ing. Not only did they own a batch of the finest new Arctic Cats, they also had acres and acres of trails to ride around on. Plus, it was the first weekend we'd be going since Jack got his license, our first weekend out of town on our own.

But as he pulled out of the parking lot, he said, "We'll have to wait and go tomorrow. I just got called in to work."

"So don't go." I drew circles in the fog on my window. "It's not like you need the money."

"Turn down an extra shift at the Haven of Peace?" If he did get into college, Jack planned to go premed. Can't say he didn't aim high. So when he turned sixteen, he took a job as an orderly at the same nursing home where my mom worked. He turned into my driveway and let the Ford idle. "Besides, I'm saving up to take Miranda Collins to prom." He also got a hefty allowance, so I doubt he would have to save up for long.

I made a face. "She's such a brown-noser. You haven't said one word to her since she tore up your valentine in sixth grade."

He grinned. "I admire her ... um ... intelligence from afar."

"Intelligence my ass."

Jack laughed. "And destiny is on my side."

"You've been saying that since sixth grade. Destiny hasn't helped you get a girl yet, dude."

He reached over and punched me. "With all this rain, we probably can't do most of the trails anyway."

The only problem with the area around Jack's cabin was that the trails were steep and did get treacherous in downpours like we'd been having. I told him, "I still wanna get out of town. We can always just play Halo."

When he reached my driveway, I said, "Call me if you get off early." I got out and slammed the door.

"Watch it!"

I waved my hand without looking back.

Inside, the house was quiet. "Mom? You home?" I waited for a response, but there was none, so I made a couple of bologna sandwiches and sat down at the table, pulling my biology book and the slightly wrinkled TroDyn application out of my backpack. Mom wouldn't be as supportive as Hogan. I'd decided my plan was to forge her signature and tell her I got a job for the summer. I knew her signature was always handy on the fridge in the form of that month's rent check, pinned in place by a strawberry-shaped magnet. But the check wasn't there.

I knelt and looked around the floor first, then up at the calendar. The twenty-eighth. Wow, she must have paid rent early for once.


Excerpted from The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen. Copyright © 2010 S. A. Bodeen. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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