There are a lot of things in Galilee Garner’s life that are simply out of her control. Having suffered kidney failure in childhood, 36-year-old Gal knows that, statistically, her chances of surviving each new year are rapidly decreasing. She goes to kidney dialysis every other night, but it’s not enough; what she needs is a kidney transplant that her body, hopefully, won’t reject this time.
Gal has fallen into a strict routine as a result. She’s a demanding biology teacher by day at a private Catholic school and her only real friend is the school’s art teacher. Since she’s spent her life in and out of hospitals, she’s never dated anyone. The one true love of her life is what she spends most of her free time on: breeding roses. Gal’s big dream is to breed a new strain of the Hulthemia rose. She envisions a flower so beautiful and fragrant that it can be patented and earn her enough money to retire and devote her life full time to roses. It’s a fanciful goal, but it keeps her going.
Then one day, her niece, Riley, shows up. Gal’s sister has never been a reliable parent, and now she expects Gal to take care of Riley for an undetermined amount of time even though Gal hasn’t seen either of them in years. Gal has always lived a solitary, structured life, and having to modify that structure to accommodate a sullen teenager is a shock to both of them. Earning her estranged niece’s trust will obviously take some time.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this book, so it was surprising how quickly I fell under its spell (seriously, I read the last 225-ish pages in one sitting)! The world of dialysis was one I was already familiar with — my grandpa was on it for over 15 years before he passed away (something of a miracle, as the book notes that by year 10, one’s chance of survival is only 10%). In her acknowledgements, Dilloway mentions why she’s able to capture Gal’s health problems accurately on the page: her sister-in-law experienced many of the same problems that Gal faces.
I was most surprised by how fascinating I found the world of rose breeding and rose enthusiasts in general. I’ll be the first to admit that I 1) suck at science; 2) excel at killing plants. Dilloway was great about incorporating all these details in a way that kept the book’s flow going. Since roses are an inextricable part of Gal’s life, it makes perfect sense that they’d also be part of the book’s drama. Even the book’s title takes on a double meaning once you get into the plot.
Admittedly, the book could be a little predictable at times. But you know what? I didn’t even care. It’s an enjoyable, well-paced, emotionally satisfying read, and I look forward to checking out Dilloway’s other book (this was her second novel).
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns was originally published in August 2012. It was released in paperback on July 2, 2013 by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin. The book won the 2013 ALA Reading List Award.