The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

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Thirty-six-year-old Gal Garner lives a regimented life. Her job teaching biology and her struggle with kidney disease keep her toggling between the high school, the hospital, and her home on a strict schedule.

Only at home, in her garden, does Gal come alive. It's here that she experiments with Hulthemia roses, painstakingly cross-pollinating various specimens in the hopes of creating a brand-new variation of spectacular beauty. But even her passion has a highly structured goal:...

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The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns: A Novel

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Overview

Thirty-six-year-old Gal Garner lives a regimented life. Her job teaching biology and her struggle with kidney disease keep her toggling between the high school, the hospital, and her home on a strict schedule.

Only at home, in her garden, does Gal come alive. It's here that she experiments with Hulthemia roses, painstakingly cross-pollinating various specimens in the hopes of creating a brand-new variation of spectacular beauty. But even her passion has a highly structured goal: Gal wants to win Queen of Show in a major competition and bring that rose to market.

Then one afternoon Gal's teenaged niece Riley, the daughter of her estranged sister, arrives. Unannounced. Neither one of them will ever be the same.

Filled with gorgeous details of the art of rose breeding, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns is a testament to the redemptive power of love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The title is apt to describe Galilee Garner, the prickly protagonist of Dilloway’s second novel (after How to Be an American Housewife). “Gal” has been on dialysis since she was diagnosed with kidney disease as a child and, by her own choosing, has distanced herself from others. She lives a solitary life in central California, her free time spent breeding competition roses and teaching high school biology at a private Catholic school. Her sole friend, Dara, whose frilly ’50s style makes her look like a character from the musical Grease, teaches art at the same school, but Gal’s self-centeredness creates a rift in their relationship. Gal’s autonomy is challenged when her teenage niece Riley arrives unannounced when Riley’s flighty mom, Gal’s sister, goes to Hong Kong on business. Having Riley around slowly softens Gal, drawing her focus away from herself. There’s no mystery that Dilloway’s metaphor, the care needed to keep a rose thriving, is meant to evoke the needs of a child, a friendship, or someone suffering a chronic illness. Dilloway’s tale is slow in reaching the sweet part of Gal’s hardened heart, and this lack of empathy will push some readers away. Agent: Elaine Markson, Markson Thoma. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Galilee Garner is a no-nonsense 36-year-old biology teacher and rose enthusiast who breeds the flowers for competitions. Gal follows a strict schedule and her days do not allow for interruptions. While she enjoys her job at a private high school and loves her roses, Gal must also pay regular visits to the hospital for dialysis; her kidney disease dictates how she will live. Always hopeful that she will eventually receive a kidney transplant, thorny, difficult Gal functions well within this regimented structure until her estranged 15-year-old niece enters her life. Needy Riley, who is staying with her aunt for an extended period, has lived an unstructured life. So Gal's ordered existence is turned topsy-turvy as she is forced to become a substitute parent. VERDICT Believable situations with well-drawn characters make this novel as lovely as the roses Gal tends. Dilloway's second novel (after her acclaimed and decidedly different debut, How To Be an American Housewife) is a captivating study of how love and understanding nurture our lives. Engaging, enlightening, thoughtful, this is a winner.—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA
Library Journal
Gal Garner distracts herself from the high school biology class she teaches and the rigors of kidney disease (though she's only 36) by cultivating roses, which she carefully cross-pollinates with the hope of winning Queen of Show in competition. Then her teenage niece, daughter of her estranged sister, arrives without warning and upends everything. Not an uncommon plot, but there's lots of enthusiasm for this second novel, with a special emphasis on book club promotion, and Dilloway's affecting How To Be an American Housewife won strong reviews.
Kirkus Reviews
The life of a high school biology teacher parallels her cultivation of roses in Dilloway's (How to Be an American Housewife, 2010) exquisitely written novel about love and redemption. Thirty-six-year-old Galilee Garner suffers from kidney failure, a condition that has defined her life. After undergoing two transplants, which ultimately failed, Gal is back on dialysis while hoping for another kidney. She is insular, obstinate and regimented in her private life, and these attributes have spilled over into her professional life, making her unpopular with many students and their parents. Gal sets the bar high and refuses to cut anyone, including herself, any slack, and she has trouble viewing issues from anyone else's perspective. Socially isolated except for fellow teacher Dara, who often drives Gal to and from her dialysis treatments, and Brad, a star student who helps Gal as part of his senior community service requirement for graduation, Gal rarely goes out. The only time she is relaxed and happy is when she is tending her roses, the one passion Gal allows in her life. A methodical breeder, Gal hopes to develop a rose that will win Queen of Show at competition. When her 15-year-old niece, Riley, appears at her school one day after a seven-year separation, Gal reluctantly allows Riley to move in. She resists the changes that occur in her orderly, measured and exact routine and stubbornly refuses to compromise her principles. But as Riley helps Gal with her roses and they begin to form a bond, she changes in slow but subtle ways. No longer as inflexible as she once was, even when she discovers a disturbing secret about her students, Gal reaches out to a fellow dialysis patient, a new colleague at school and her older sister. A witty and compassionate lesson about the importance of empathy, friendship and family.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399157752
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/2/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway lives in Southern California with her husband and their three young children. Her blog, American Housewife, can be found on her website at www.margaretdilloway.com. This is her second novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 9, 2012

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    Very good book!

    I was pleasantly surprised with this book. It had a great story line. I have not read any other books by this author, but I think I will check into some other titles since this one was so good. I recommend this book!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2012

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    Galilee ¿Gal¿ Garner isn¿t the typical protagonist. I¿ll just be

    Galilee “Gal” Garner isn’t the typical protagonist. I’ll just be honest—I didn’t like her. She was so rough and thorn like. She came off hard and callous. The truth is she’s had a rough go of life. I liked that she didn’t sit around and feel sorry for herself. Gal has kidney disease; she spent her days teaching high school science and most of her evenings sleeping at the hospital. She kept a strict schedule and strict diet. There were very few relationships with people in her life; she liked to keep people at arm’s length. She moved through her entire life with the knowledge that she could land in the hospital or die if she got sick. How sad to be burdened with knowing you could bring despair and loss to someone if you opened yourself up to loving them and letting them love you.

    Gal put all her passion and energies into something safe…her roses. Gal is obsessed about creating a new variation of a Hulthemia Rose. Her green house and her roses are her life, love, her baby. Gal seemed perfectly content with how things were, but her world gets turned upside down when Gal’s sister sends her daughter to Gal to watch. Riley is a young girl who shows up unannounced and with lots of her own ‘baggage’. Riley grew up being tossed around from her mother (who is an addict), her grandparents to her father (who is now remarried and no longer around).

    They seem to be exactly what the other one needs. Gal’s mothering instincts start to kick in and Riley begins to let Gal in—finding a safe spot.

    For me, I found this to be a special book. I don’t think it would be easy to write about such an unlikable person. And at the same time there is this very slow peeling away of the old Gal, but Dilloway never strays too far. Gal always seems the same just better. I slowly began liking her the more or moreso I understood her more and wanted more for her. I loved Riley and felt bad for Riley. I loved how Riley grew.

    I can’t say I put this book down and said “wow it was amazing,” but it was uplifting. Like I said, special. It felt real, like you were glimpsing into Gal’s life. It’s not a love story, but a story about the human spirit. It’s a novel I hope you will read. Take your time with it. Savor it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2013

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    I Also Recommend:

    Galilee Garner can be as prickly and sensitive as the roses she

    Galilee Garner can be as prickly and sensitive as the roses she breeds in her southern California backyard, but when her teenaged niece arrives on her doorstep unexpectedly, temporarily homeless and motherless, Gal manages far beyond providing nutrient requirements.

    Thirty-eight, unmarried, and with no children of her own, Gal is a strict disciplinarian. She teaches high school science and coaches the Science Team in addition to showing her roses at national shows. Although schooled in the scientific method --do this and then this to get this result--she knows there is also an elusive, intangible, unquantifiable factor in successful rose-breeding and in life called “luck.”

    Dilloway has written a story that engages our senses (sight, smell, touch) and our whole mind: we are presented with constraints and conditions that must be taken into account when cogitating the deceptively “small” and everyday ethical questions Gal encounters as she teaches, and as she competes in rose shows. I would not be surprised to learn that Ms. Dilloway was schooled in philosophy, so much does this charmingly light and easy read recall the work of Alexander McCall Smith, Scottish philosopher and author, whose series The Sunday Philosophy Club likewise raises sticky ethical issues we often encounter in our own lives.

    This novel qualifies as a romance, though it is not typical in any way. For one thing, our main character is crusty and opinionated—rendering her unlikeable in the eyes of many. But she is clever, too, and principled, and a very good teacher. She also has a life-threatening condition which hampers her activities and constrains her choices. While her illness has constrained some opportunities, it has also given her opportunities. It is when Gal realizes her bounty and discovers not what she lacks but what she already has, that she becomes a person that people want to have as a friend.

    I am a sucker for books about gardening, its failures and its delights. I also like books about people managing to overcome--or manage in spite of--things in their physical or psychological makeup that would hold them back from living a full life. This novel raises plenty of important issues that we might encounter in our own lives, and gently guides us through possible outcomes.

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  • Posted July 18, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Galilee Gartner, a private high school biology teacher, raises r

    Galilee Gartner, a private high school biology teacher, raises roses as a hobby, but she’s not the kind who mails away for different styles or breeds of these gorgeous flowers.  She breeds them, experiments with different breeds that are both already popular, specialized and loved as well as trying to breed new types.  Her dream is to create a beautiful rose that also has a magnificent fragrance.  While she calls herself an amateur and may be compared to other famous rose breeders, she knows a million times more than the average lover of roses and is so deeply passionate about her hobby.  
    It brings her peace in the middle of her medical problems that require routine dialysis and avoidance of all infections in her very high risk status.  She’s not popular with students and is even described as too “tough” but she refuses to yield to mediocrity, an attitude that has come to threaten her job, even though she is tenured.
    She’s got one good friend, Dara, whom she could lose because of her caustic and hurtful comments; but Dara, an art teacher, is smarter than that and a genuinely compassion person who knows when to appear to help and when to cut to live her own life.
    Her life is about to change even more dramatically with the arrival of her niece, Riley, a teen who dresses in Gothic style that Gal finds appalling.  But now the surprises begin once Gal gets through her initial rage with her irresponsible sister, Becky, who is a functional drug addict and possibly alcoholic as well.  Becky knows she’s not wanted but has turned out to be quite a gal which Gal is about to discover.  The external attitude is deceiving indeed and our journey with Aunt Gal and Riley is filled with unexpected moments and growing maturity – on the part of both women!
    Gal even discovers she can develop a friendly relationship with a new chemistry teacher and that it is possible to merge science with art to the benefit of both teachers and students.
    Margaret Dilloway is a literate writer who has crafted a fascinating novel about the parallel of breeding relationships with roses, family and friends.  The quote is so apt in the beginning of the book, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.”  What an absolutely phenomenal read with a message that inspires, fascinates and never descends to maudlin.  
    Highly recommended!

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