Released September 6, 2016.
Jack wants to spend his summer sleeping in or even with a job of his own. Instead, he is stuck watching his mute younger sister for the summer while his mother takes a second job to pay bills. Then one day at a flea market, Maddy does speak and tells Jack to trade his mother’s car for a box of unusual seeds. Jack does and soon his summer has turned into something very different. They create a garden at home and the seeds turn out to be very wild and even magical. There are onions that can walk, squash that bite, others that chase them down. Huge snails climb the house and one night a green dragon appears. Soon Jack has a choice to make, destroy the garden and its evil magic or risk them all.
According to the author note, this book was in the works for ten years. It’s a brilliant riff on the Jack in the Beanstalk classic. Fans of Zita the Spacegirl will recognize the character who sells Jack the seeds, which is a lovely little moment. Hatke keeps the pace wildly active with readers not knowing at all what is going to appear in the garden next. There is plenty of action and a willingness to just spend time exploring the magic garden and what it holds. Those pages are a delight.
The characters are nicely done as well with Maddy being the one who doesn’t speak but is also integral to all of the decisions being made. Then there is Lilly, the neighbor girl who knows how to wield a sword and even has access to other weapons and armor that will become crucial in the story. I greatly appreciate having a homeschooled girl character who is the one who knows how to battle and knows how to get along with others. It is these critical choices by the author that makes the book work so well. Maddy too is an autistic child who may not speak but has deep connections to the garden and knows exactly what she wants and often knows better than her brother.
Get this in the hands of Zita fans for sure and also those enjoying the battles in Hilo. There is so much to love here! Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from First Second and Edelweiss.