Summary and book reviews of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

The Garden of Small Beginnings

by Abbi Waxman

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
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    May 2017, 368 pages

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Book Summary

Not since Good Grief has a book about a young widow been so poignant, funny, original, and utterly believable. A compelling debut novel about loss.

Give grief a chance ...

Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years - ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she's just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she's becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.

At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks - like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there's that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can't be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.

After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden feeling out of her element. But what she'll soon discover - with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners - is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not…

Prologue

It's been more than three years since my husband died, yet in many ways he's more useful than ever. True, he's not around to take out the trash, but he's great to bitch at while I'm doing it myself, and he's generally excellent company, invisibility notwithstanding. And as someone to blame he's unparalleled, because he isn't there to contradict me, on account of being cremated. I talk to him a lot, though our conversations have devolved from metaphysical explorations of the meaning of death to generic married conversations about what to have for dinner, or who's on the hook for the lost tax returns.

When he died in a car accident, fifty feet from our front door, I seriously considered dying too, too. Not because my heart was broken, though that was true, but because my mind was completely boggled by the logistical challenges of living without him. However, it's just as well I didn't, because he would have been waiting for me...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Anaïs Nin quote at the start of the book expresses the challenge facing Lilian. Have you experienced a situation where staying in place was as painful a choice as moving forward?
  2. As the story begins, Lilian is deeply sad, but comfortable in her sadness. She resists people's encouragements to move on, and is quite verbal about it. What impact does her position have on the other people in her life?
  3. Lilian's children experienced the loss of their father differently. How have you seen your own family or friends deal differently with grief, or other losses? Is there a "right" way?
  4. Does Lilian find her work as a textbook illustrator fulfilling? Is she as stuck in that job as she is in her personal life?
  5. What are the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Once in a while a book comes along that is pure fun, and that is how I feel about The Garden of Small Things (Anna R). It's written in a breezy style (Martha S). The author brilliantly handles the challenge of telling a story that is simultaneously very funny and very sad (Jean B). It made me laugh and cry, sometimes in the same sentence (Michele N). I have about 20 pages with my favorite sections dog-eared, and they never fail to make me smile, even when I know what's coming (Alline A). Waxman's writing is vivid and relational – pulling you into every situation and making you feel that you are living it (Jill W). This is a treasure of a book that will both enrich and delight the reader (Milda S).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Waxman takes readers from tears to laughter in this depiction of one woman's attempt to hold it all together for everyone else only to learn it's OK to put herself first.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Waxman's skill at characterization...lifts this novel far above being just another 'widow finds love' story. Clearly an observer, Waxman has mastered the fine art of dialogue as well. Characters ring true right down to Lilian's two daughters, who often steal the show. This debut begs for an encore from Waxman.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Kudos to debut author Waxman for creating an endearing and realistic cast of main and supporting characters (including the children). Her narrative and dialog are drenched with spring showers of witty and irreverent humor, which provides much respite from the underlying grief theme.

Author Blurb Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
Brilliant. Simply brilliant. The Garden of Small Beginnings is funny, poignant, and startling in its emotional intensity and in its ability to make the reader laugh and cry on the same page ... loved this book!

Author Blurb Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank With Me
This is my favorite kind of book - hilarious, sad, joyful. Beautifully written. Fun. I dare you not to enjoy it.

Author Blurb Molly Shannon, actress and author
What a treat! Abbi Waxman is one of the wittiest voices in the world today. The Garden of Small Beginnings is a beautiful book full of humor, heart, and deep insight. An intimate and hilarious journey about a young mom moving on from grief. Reading it gave me the feeling I was talking to a really funny, open mom-friend sharing secrets about life, love, loss, and gardening!

Author Blurb Wendy Wax, USA Today bestselling author of One Good Thing
Funny and poignant. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry. May make you want to play in dirt and grow a new life of your own.

Reader Reviews

Cindy C. (Withee, WI)

You have to start somewhere
I loved this book. It makes you laugh and it makes you cry. The characters are very real. You find yourself cheering on the characters as they make good decisions and bad decisions. And although I think the book is about Lili's journey back to fully ...   Read More

Darra W. (Mendocino, CA)

From the tiniest seed...
The garden as metaphor for rebirth is hardly new, but in the hands of author Abbi Waxman, this familiar convention blooms anew. Lilli, a thirty-something widow and mother, discovers an unexpected source of healing when she finds herself coerced into ...   Read More

Alline Anderson

I laughed, I cried - really!
I really enjoyed this book. So many of the tangential conversations are laugh-out-loud funny, while the very real grief comes through loud and clear,. I have about 20 pages with my favorite sections dog-eared, and they never fail to make me smile, ...   Read More

Martha S. (Mentor, OH)

Friendships
I loved this book! I want to be friends with the main character, Lilian. She lives a full, zany life, although she doesn't appreciate all the wonderful pieces and parts to her life. You'll learn in the prologue that her husband was killed in a car ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Community Gardens

In The Garden of Small Beginnings, the book's heroine becomes involved in a community garden.

A Community GardenA community garden is generally a piece of public land set aside for use by individuals who don't have the real-estate or resources to create gardens of their own. Although the idea of a shared planting space has been around for centuries, the concept as we think of it now took firm hold in the United States during World War II when local governments encouraged the creation of "victory gardens" to help with personal food production. 

Today, community gardens have evolved to mean different things to different people or organizations. Some, like the Clinton Community Garden in Manhattan, are works of art – greenspaces ...

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