The Locked Garden

The Locked Garden

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by Gloria Whelan

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It's the year 1900, the dawn of a new century and a chance for a new beginning for Verna and Carlie, whose mother died two years ago. They are headed to their new home—the grounds of an asylum for the mentally ill. Their father, a doctor, has been hired to treat its patients while the girls are under the strict and watchful eye of their aunt Maude. The

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It's the year 1900, the dawn of a new century and a chance for a new beginning for Verna and Carlie, whose mother died two years ago. They are headed to their new home—the grounds of an asylum for the mentally ill. Their father, a doctor, has been hired to treat its patients while the girls are under the strict and watchful eye of their aunt Maude. The towering asylum, the murmuring patients with their tormented pasts, the exquisite locked garden at the center of the grounds—Verna perceives forbidden mystery and enchantment everywhere. Even Aunt Maude's temper will not keep her from striking out on her own exciting adventures.

But is Verna ready to confront all the secrets and emotions that have been locked within—even those of her own heart?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

National Book Award-winner Whelan (Homeless Bird) sets this straightforward and thoughtful story at an asylum for the mentally ill in 1900. Narrator Verna and her younger sister, Carlie, move to a house on the hospital grounds with their psychiatrist father and dour busybody Aunt Maude (the girls' mother died of typhoid). Verna immediately feels a kindred spirit with Eleanor, the cheerful asylum patient who begins working as a maid for the family. Jealous of the girls' affection for Eleanor, Maude grows increasingly vindictive, until Papa is forced to send her packing. Fearing the appearance of impropriety, given that he and Eleanor (of whom he's clearly grown fond) are both single, Verna's father dismisses her, which sends the young woman spiraling into depression. Though overwrought imagery ("Eleanor was always on my mind, a singing bird hidden high in a treetop") occasionally bogs down the narrative and an abrupt, inconclusive ending will leave some readers feeling cheated, Whelan adds authentic period flavor and crafts affecting moments-some in the asylum's locked garden-between the sisters and the recovering Eleanor. Ages 8-12. (June)

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Vicki Sherbert
In the year 1900, Verna's papa, a well-known psychiatrist, has moved her, her younger sister Carlie, and their stern Aunt Maude to Michigan where he will work in an asylum with mentally ill patients. After losing their mother to typhoid, the girls are hesitant to leave the city, but eager for new adventures in their country home. When Eleanor, one of the patients who has made a remarkable recovery, comes to work for the family, Aunt Maude objects, voicing the prejudices and rumors that abound regarding those who live and work in the asylum. Whelan's descriptions and characterization give the reader a taste of what it was like for those whose mental illness was not treated as an illness in the early 20th century. By choosing an adolescent girl to narrate the story, Whelan allows the reader to approach this topic with innocence, compassion, and kindness. Reviewer: Vicki Sherbert
Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Verna and her family have moved away from their home to a new home at a remote mental hospital because her father has accepted a position there on the staff. Verna and her sister have fond memories of their life in their old home before their mother died. Now strict Aunt Maude takes care of them and has accompanied the family to their new home. Verna and Carlie become friends with one of the asylum patients who has been assigned to help with housekeeping tasks at their house. This makes Aunt Maude jealous and spiteful and she takes out her jealousy on Eleanor, the young patient. Verna decides to take matters into her own hands and she and Carlie plot to get Aunt Maude to leave so that Eleanor can take care of them permanently. The situation soon gets out of control however and cannot be resolved as simply as Verna wishes. This is a charming and often humorous family story with some lessons about compassion and history tucked in. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6–Verna and her sister Carlie are still dealing with the death of their mother and the arrival of her harsh and dour sister, Aunt Maude, when their father accepts a position as a staff doctor at a hospital for the mentally ill. When he brings Eleanor, a young patient recovering from depression, into the home to help with the chores, Aunt Maude sees her as a threat while the girls welcome her with joy. Though Maude and Eleanor’s father bring condemnation and pain into Eleanor’s life, the children, their father, and the hospital administrator reach out to her with acceptance and love. The story explores the prejudice that shadowed the lives of the mentally ill at the turn of the century as well as what it means to be “normal.” As Verna stands up for what she thinks is right while trying out questionable means to attain her goals, the author allows readers to experience the development of her maturity and character. At the conclusion of the story, readers see a real girl who has not learned all of life’s lessons and has not made all the right choices but is still in the process of learning and growing. A thoroughly enjoyable read.–Debra Banna, Sharon Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
From page one, National Book Award winner Whelan establishes a strong sense of time, unusual setting and characters-an asylum for the mentally ill in 20th-century Michigan. After Verna and younger sister Carlie's mother died, their psychiatrist Papa moves the family to a house on the grounds of an asylum for his work. One of the patients, a young woman who is recovering, is sent to keep house, and the girls becomes very attached to her, much preferring her to their strict and disapproving Aunt Maude. Though the girls would like her instead of Maude to take their mother's place, having a single woman living in the same house with a widower would be a scandalous social impropriety. At the core is Verna's strong-willed determination to keep Eleanor from her abusive father. This convincing melodrama portrays an atypical attitude toward treating mental illness by involving patients in gardening, singing and farm chores. While some plot details are convenient, this exceptional story never lets the focus override the characterization. (Historical fiction. 9-13)
“The evocative setting is a backdrop to the sensitive, sometimes comedic family story.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Locked Garden 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was not what i thought it was kind of regret getting it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book could have taken on a different title, for it wasn't about the locked garden as much as I thought it was, and the ending just sort of, well, ended. I was like, wait, that's the end? Shouldn't there be more? But there wasn't. I liked it anyway. If you like historical fiction that veers off from the normal path, you will too. Posted by: Lauren Kellie
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
rebecca_herman More than 1 year ago
The year is 1900. Two years after the death of their mother, twelve-year-old Verna Martin and her six-year-old sister, Carlie, leave their home in the city. They are moving with their father, a psychiatrist, to an asylum in the countryside that is testing out new ideas for the treatment of the mentally ill. Their strict Aunt Maude, who has cared for them since their mother's death, accompanies them. Much to Verna's surprise, the asylum is a lovely place, with trees, flowers, and animals. And the patients aren't scary at all. One patient is Eleanor, a young woman who, thanks to the care and peaceful setting of the asylum, has improved enough to work. She comes to work at their house, to cook, clean, and help care for the sisters. Verna and Carlie become very close to Eleanor, and this causes Aunt Maude to become very jealous, which results in terrible consequences for Eleanor's health, leaving Verna to try and fix the situation. The Locked Garden is a very interesting historical novel for young readers about a topic not much explored in children's fiction - the beginnings of modern mental health treatment. This book is both an interesting look at the subject as well as a touching story about family and friendship. I recommend it to young readers who like historical fiction as well as those readers who have enjoyed other books by the author.