Stone Garden: A Novel

Stone Garden: A Novel

3.4 7
by Molly Moynahan

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A smart young woman making her way through the privileged terrain of northeastern prep-school land, Alice McGuire is certain of her world and her future — until the summer her best friend and soul mate, Matthew Swan, vanishes on a trip to Mexico. Stunned, Alice and the rest of the close-knit town that adored Matthew search for answers. For Alice, the journey


A smart young woman making her way through the privileged terrain of northeastern prep-school land, Alice McGuire is certain of her world and her future — until the summer her best friend and soul mate, Matthew Swan, vanishes on a trip to Mexico. Stunned, Alice and the rest of the close-knit town that adored Matthew search for answers. For Alice, the journey of heartbreak leads from everything that is familiar to forbidden places and forgotten people who will teach her about kindness and forgiveness: lessons that will open her to new possibilities and unexpected hope.

Vividly wrought, deeply resonant, and told in a remarkable voice that sparkles with wit and wisdom, Stone Garden is a splendid triumph from an accomplished new writer.

Editorial Reviews

Jacquelyn Mitchard
“Moynahan can read the geography of grief with her fingertips and it shouts from every page.”
John Searles
“Stone Garden is tender and touching and casts a spell over the reader from the very first page.”
Ken Wells
“Wonderful and wise...with keen insight into the most universal of all conditions, the struggle of the human heart.”
Dallas Morning Star-Telegram
“Well-told...moving...Moynahan has crafted an excellent story.”
Trenton Times
“Alice just as smart and funny as Holden Caulfield...[Her] voice is newly wise and altogether heartbreaking....Remarkable.”
New York Times Book Review
“Moynahan’s...novel is about grief. It is also fun to read. Everyone should have a friend like [the narrator] Alice.”
Chicago Tribune
“Moynahan’s gift to her reader is this fully realized character; I found myself missing Alice’s voice.”
The New York Times
Molly Moynahan's second novel is about grief. It is also fun to read. This is due in large part to the book's young narrator, Alice McGuire, whose large heart buoys her most trenchant observations. Everyone should have a friend like Alice. She's the sort who will defend a teacher -- by cursing in class. Even when she's in mourning, her humor can bubble over like a shaken soda can. — Jacqueline Carey
Publishers Weekly
Rich-kid glamour mixes uneasily with tragedy in this well-intentioned but faintly smug second novel by Moynahan (Parting Is All We Know of Heaven). Alice McGuire's picture-perfect world crumbles after the bones of her missing best friend, Matthew Swan, are discovered in a shallow grave in Mexico. Devastated, the Millstone Country Day senior struggles with her romantic dreams of what might have been and the impact of her devastating loss-"I could feel Matt's dying in every inch of me, skimming across the surface of my skin, soaking into my pores when I stood under the shower.... Grief is fifty times harder than AP Calculus." For a while, the self-absorbed Alice has trouble empathizing with others mourning the well-liked student, including the frankly lesbian Ms. Hardwood, a perceptive teacher; Catherine, Matt's recovering alcoholic mom, who once had a fling with Alice's dad; Matt's eccentric sisters (one is perpetually stoned, not unlike Hallie, the heroin addict Matt went to Mexico with); Julia, Alice's overachieving Martha Stewart-type mother; and the lonely Sigrid, Alice's talented friend who composes an opera inspired by the long-ago murder of her beloved babysitter. Alice's salvation is her senior project participation in Literacy Behind Bars, a prison creative writing program, where Frank, the man who killed Sigrid's babysitter, is one of her "students." Frank and the other inmates adore Alice, and they spill their guts in perceptive prose, teaching Alice, Sigrid and their Millstone classmates about the redemptive power of forgiveness. Moynahan's smooth, playful prose is engaging, but her characters' emotional turmoil has a glib, rehearsed quality. As Alice puts it early on, "We were spoiled rotten and didn't have a clue." Despite all that follows, the feel-good ending underscores the reader's sense that little has changed. 4-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Senior year is tough enough without having to deal with the death of your best friend since kindergarten. That is the situation Alice finds herself in as she learns that Matthew Swan-her soul mate, her friend, her would-be lover, and her partner for life-has been murdered in Mexico. He was just going for a quick vacation with another girl, trying to help her through her addictions. That was the kind of guy Matthew was-always helping others. He helped his mother through her alcoholism and divorce; he was there for his sisters as they stumbled through eating disorders and drugs; he helped the kids at school. He was a "golden child" loved and respected by many. Alice has to cope with this loss, to figure out how to graduate and continue her life without the boy she thought would be there by her side. The seniors have to do a project to graduate from Millstone Country Day, and Alice decides to join the literacy project at the local prison. By working with the convicts, she hopes to understand how someone can take the life of another human being and thus heal at least enough to go on. A lyrical and honest look at teens today, this novel is appealing to adults as well as young adults. Moynahan has created a well-written story dealing with loss and coming of age reminiscent of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A teenaged girl comes to terms with her grief over the random murder of the boy she loves. Millstone Academy senior Matt is the local golden boy: not only smart and talented but also wise and sensitive beyond his years. He goes to Mexico over spring vacation planning to break up with his troubled, drug-abusing quasi-girlfriend so that he and Alice, his soulmate since kindergarten, can finally commit to their true love. Instead, he disappears, and the authorities later find his bones in a mass grave. Back in New Jersey, Alice is distraught. So is everyone else at Millstone who knew Matt. The boy's mother is a reformed alcoholic who had a brief romance with Alice's otherwise caring father after her husband left her for a pregnant student; Matt knew about the affair but protected Alice from it. He confided other things he couldn't tell Alice to Ms. Hardwood, a teacher now in a committed gay relationship who was engaged to Alice's uncle before he died in Vietnam. Alice's classmates at Millstone include fatherless Morgan, a geek with a future who's in love with her, and motherless Sigrid, who witnessed the murder of a beloved babysitter years ago. When Alice chooses as her senior project to teach writing to inmates at Rahway Prison she ends up instructing the very man who killed Sigrid's babysitter. Despite a multitude of subplots and meanderings, the heart of the story lies in its juxtaposition of Sigrid's and Alice's reactions to the two murders and how they resolve issues of evil, responsibility, forgiveness, and revenge. Second-novelist Moynahan (Parting Is All We Know of Heaven, 1989) has a wonderful ear for how kids talk and think, but her tearjerker with a veiled spiritual messagesuffers from a surfeit of sensitive and caring characters sharing their earnest, profound thoughts. Agent: Jane Gelfman/Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

Stone Garden

A Novel
By Molly Moynahan

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Molly Moynahan All right reserved. ISBN: 0060544260

Chapter One

The poets had come before. We listened to their poems politely, wondering how it must seem to them, being bused out of prison to visit a bunch of high school students to tell them about poetry. Except it wasn't like that. You never heard any of these guys discussing nuance or meter or any of those terms our English teachers try to make us remember even though they're boring and useless.

The prisoners never talked about poetry at all. They talked about prison. They talked about how it felt once you heard all the doors locking behind you, how it no longer mattered who you were or what you'd done or whether your lawyer was some big shot. They said fuck. They said shit and asshole and butt-fucked. It was like all the rules were suspended when the poets came. Our headmaster, Duncan Farley, stood at the side of the stage and smiled. Smiled and smiled in his white duck pants, brown deck shoes, and paisley bow ties. His face was the same face he had when the little boys from the American Boys Choir came at Christmas and sang "Ave Maria," their voices so high and sweet they made your teeth hurt. He scanned the auditorium searching for kids who weren't paying attention. As soon as he caught their eyes he'd gesture towardthe poets and wink. Duncan Farley was a major winker.

The poets said stuff like "Listen, you spoiled motherfuckers - don't do anything stupid. You'll end up like us - locked up, fucked up, somebody's bitch with nothin'to look forward to but your momma comin' to visit and you sittin' there crying till you can't take it anymore and you cut your throat." They paced back and forth like the fake wrestlers on the WWF, trying to convince us we were about to lose everything.

But kids like us didn't end up in jail. There was rehab, loony bins, and special schools for anyone who might get violent. We were tutored, braced, immunized, counseled, and medicated. Our counselors would write notes for us describing our symptoms in the most glowing terms, convincing everyone that our lack of direction and respect for authority and our general laziness were the result of adolescent angst and unrecognized brilliance. If we performed poorly on standardized tests, special academic support was just a phone call away. Many of my friends had personal trainers and their own private therapists. We took SAT prep classes, we consulted nutritionists, we gave ourselves Myers-Briggs personality quizzes and told our teachers the reason we couldn't meet deadlines was that we were wired in a unique way. The stuff the prisoners told us didn't register. We were spoiled rotten and didn't have a clue.

And then they read their poems. Poems about sunsets, rainy days, and kittens. Bad poems our teachers would have marked up with "cliché," "mixed metaphor," "stale image," "???."

Really corny rhymes about their mothers. But mainly it was food. Endless stanzas about food: mangoes, grapes, fatback, steak, peas, corn, cucumbers, lemons, spaghetti, ham, apple pie, turkey. There weren't even metaphors in these poems, just point-blank descriptions of favorite meals. They could have published a cookbook.

Some of the poets seemed proud of how they ended up in jail. One guy read a poem about cutting someone's throat, and then he looked up at us and said: "I did that."

Since I'd started high school, I had seen these poets five times. Christmas vacation was over and the poets were back. Some of the parents decided the poets were a bad thing. A petition to stop their program was circulated that had the following statement attached:

Prison poets would be a wonderful asset to a nonprivate, less selective institution than Millstone Country Day. The life experiences these individuals describe, while inspiring, are irrelevant to the experiences of MCD's population. The school would be far better served by a series of lectures given by CEOs, successful entrepreneurs, and famous artists, all of whom exist in the current alumni pool.

My mother found the petition hilarious. "What about Leopold and Loeb?" she asked my father. "What about Graham Steadforth's son being arrested for running a gambling and prostitution club? And Lizzie Macklin's daughter who sold drugs?"

My father looked over his bifocals and frowned. "You can't argue that students from Millstone frequently end up in the slammer."

My mother looked disgusted. "Of course they don't," she said. "Their parents hire famous criminal lawyers to dispute speeding tickets and pay off judges. It's black and Hispanic children that end up doing time."

This was their normal routine. Mom was "down with the people" and Dad pretended to be a snob.

"Nevertheless," my father said, removing his glasses slowly. "While Leopold and Loeb introduced the concept of Ivy League psychopaths, most senseless murders are committed by southern drifters. Mainly men in their twenties who hail from Texas."

Sometimes I wonder whether people realize how stupid their habits are. Take the glasses thing. My father had twenty different ways to take them off.

"And live in trailer parks," I added.

"And have three names," my father said, winking at me. "Joe Bob Billy."

"Danny Lou Ray," I shouted.

"Bobby Will Paul."

"Tammy Sue Louise," Mom said. "They can be girls, too."

She leaned over to push my bangs off my forehead, staring at that part of me as if it contained the answer to world peace.

"What?" I asked.

"Nothing," she said, sighing. "You have such a wonderful forehead."

This was her habit. Forehead worshiping.

The petition didn't work and the poets kept coming.

Matthew Swan was still missing. The police at the Texas border were no longer searching for him, and the private detective told the Swans to give up ...


Excerpted from Stone Garden by Molly Moynahan
Copyright © 2003 by Molly Moynahan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are saying about this

Ken Wells
“Wonderful and wise...with keen insight into the most universal of all conditions, the struggle of the human heart.”
John Searles
“Stone Garden is tender and touching and casts a spell over the reader from the very first page.”
Jacquelyn Mitchard
“Moynahan can read the geography of grief with her fingertips and it shouts from every page.”

Meet the Author

Molly Moynahan is a high school English teacher and has taught creative writing at various colleges. She lives in Chicago.

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Stone Garden: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mandersj More than 1 year ago
Seventeen-year-old Alice is entering her senior year of high school and is desperately missing her best friend and soulmate, Matthew. Alice attends a small New Jersey prep school, where everybody knows everybody yet she has only a handful of kids she calls her friends, in "Stone Garden." Matthew accompanied another classmate to Mexico earlier that summer, and he has been missing ever since. No one knows what could have happened to them, but Alice feels deep down that he must be dead, otherwise he would have moved heaven and earth to contact her. Matthew was the type of person that everyone loved, yet he only had eyes for Alice. They had been best friends since kindergarten, but had never gotten it right until the end of their junior year. Their whole lives, either Alice had a crush on Matthew who didn't feel the same, or Matthew had a crush on Alice, who was with someone else. They finally synched up at the end of junior year; all Matthew had to do was take this trip to Mexico with his then-girlfriend and break up with her when they got back. But they never came back. The whole school knew of Alice and Matthew's relationship, and they knew about Matthew's disappearance. When school began that fall, they all treated Alice like she was a widow in mourning, which she very nearly was. Half-way into the school year, Matthew's remains were identified in a mass grave in Mexico, confirming what Alice had always believed. This confirmation of death propelled Alice's final senior project to be what no one else in school could fathom­-going to the local prison and tutoring the inmates on their writing and poetry skills. Alice decides this project will be cathartic and may possibly provide answers to why someone could kill another human being. She doesn't anticipate one of her students to be the murderer of one of her closest friend's beloved nanny. Not only does she keep this fact a secret from her friend, who is clearly still shaken years after witnessing the murder, but Alice somewhat befriends the murderer and the others in her class. They say she is the only person on the outside who values what they have to say and doesn't judge them. Alice has trouble keeping thing together in her life outside her senior project. Promiscuity becomes a problem, as well as other destructive behavior. She acts aggressively towards Matthew's mother and her own father, when she finds out they had an affair. She lashes out at both of them, yet no matter how mad she is, she can't help but love them because they are still there, forcing her to recognize that Matthew will never come back. Ultimately, a very mature Alice has to come to terms with Matthew's death and she dreams of the day they will meet again. However she doesn't seem to care if that day is tomorrow, or in 50 years, making her life choices a little reckless. Alice's narrative is heart breaking in that she has lost the love of her life and it has drained her will to live. However, keeping perspective, she is only 17 years old, and has her entire life ahead of her. This gripping story captures less than a year in her life; a life that hopefully will never have as much pain and anguish again.
Auntamy More than 1 year ago
I WANTED to like this book, and there were several sections that I enjoyed, but Alice the main character, is really vague. I had a hard time following where this was going. I understood the idea around it, but the characters were really hard to identify with.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i read this book in my independent reading class last year and when i read a section to the class nearly everyone had tears in their eyes...this book is amazing and i would recommend it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Moynahan was my 12th grade english teacher last year, and I am so proud of her for this book. It is a great story filled with grief and hope and reverance as the main character Alice searches for answers in her world full of questions. I have learned so much from Ms. Moynahan, and wish her all the best in the future. This book is truly a testiment to her talent!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my absolute favorite book. You can't help but be sympathetic with Alice, the main character, after all that has happened to her. I read this book four times and each time I get something more out of it. A must-read!