Genres: Contemporary Women
Published by Blank Slate Press Source: Author
April 28th 2015 | Pages: 280
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A girl, a guy, a broken-down house. Not exactly on-again, off-again, Malcolm and Joanna are in-again, out-again: in love, out of each other’s arms, in an awkward co-living arrangement, out of the country. Their unconventional relationship is the only way, Joanna says, to protect herself from the specter of commitment, which inevitably leads to heartbreak. Set in the damp and drizzly neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, Broken Homes and Gardens is an ode to friendship, lust, and the unrelenting pull of love.
I received Broken Homes and Gardens in exchange for my honest review. This does not influence my opinions or the content of my review. This review contains affiliate links and is in compliance with FTC guidelines.
I loved this story of Malcolm and Joanna’s friendship blossoming into a romance as she grows vegetables and he renovates the fixer-upper she purchased, but for me the main storyline was Joanna’s growth as an individual. When I look at the direct quotes I highlighted, I realized that those alone tell Joanna’s story of personal transformation better than I ever could.
Broken Homes and Gardens begins with Joanna in a total meltdown, running away from a job teaching English in the Czech Republic to her sister’s Portland, Oregon apartment with no notice.
It was a horrible thought-that she, Joanna, was incapable of enjoying the very best moments of her life.
While staying with her sister, Joanna walks the streets of Portland at night.
She needed to be out there, devouring the air and running her fingers along the mossy walls. She peered into houses and imagined herself tucked away in those nooks and crannies. All those windows were glimpses into all the ways her life could take shape.
No one could ever describe her sister as “frazzled,” “disheveled,” or “ill-kempt;” three adjectives that Joanna might use to describe herself right now.
Seeing her divorced mother always emotionally crushed by a boyfriend, has turned Joanna against any kind of a life-long commitment.
Her mother waved her hands, shooing away Joanna’s concerns. “Oh, Jo-Jo, what’s the point of sanity if you have no one to share it with?
Joanna meets Malcolm at a party the night before he leaves for two years in the Peace Corps, causing their friendship to begin as a series of cards, notes, and emails, to which readers are not privy. He returns on the day the wedding of Joanna’s sister and his best friend.
“I just realized we’ve spent less than twenty-four hours of our lives together. And that includes today, standing up for Ted and Laura, arranging zinnias and things.” “True,” Malcolm said, “But I’m here now.”
Within a few months of Malcolm’s return, Joanna’s live-in boyfriend decides to move to Seattle to be with his former fiance. Joanna once again is restarting her life.
She was living in an efficiency; her whole life had become efficient. She ate the same things every day, mostly shelf stable foods. Instead of feeling pathetic she felt self-reliant.
The back and forth of being friends, having romantic feelings, and trying to hold things back finally comes to a head when there is a crisis in Joanna’s own family.
“All I’m saying is, it wouldn’t hurt to follow through with something for once in your life,” her sister said in a small voice.
I liked all the characters in Broken Homes and Gardens. Being an eldest child I could see Laura’s point of view, and I was also able to empathise with Joanna for her feelings of being put-upon when her sister left home to attend college. Ted was not as fleshed out as the other characters, but the way the author had Laura and Malcolm speak of him let readers know he is one of those all around laid back good guys. Malcolm has a dry wit, knows Laura’s soul almost immediately, and is patient in his friendship-wanting it to become love. And of course Laura, to me a little lost, not really ambitious, but a likeable person who can be friendly and chatty if she allows herself to be in social situations, is the center of the story.
Broken Homes and Gardens is a fun debut novel from Rebecca Kelley. The publisher’s comparison description is pretty accurate in the use of the When Harry Met Sally reference, with the back and forth friendship, relationship, other partners, et al. There isn’t a whole lot of gardening and renovating, although it goes on in the story, it’s not written about in extreme detail. In a movie, which I hope will happen, readers would see the title of the book much more vividly. I highly recommend Broken Homes and Gardens to fans of thoughtful women’s fiction.
About Rebecca Kelley
Rebecca has taught writing at Oregon College of Art & Craft for nine years. Her work is infused with the sensibilities of the young creative class that uses the Pacific Northwest as its way station for earnest, well-meaning adventuring to the world at large. At home, her fiction turns to the quiet dramas of urban domestic life: growing tomatoes, making pancakes, examining the nature and validity of love and marriage in the context of our modern world. She lives in northeast Portland with her husband and daughter.
Rebecca started the Green Baby Guide in 2007 along with Joy Hatch. Their book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, was published in 2010. Rebecca’s work has appeared in Scholastic Parent and Child, Metro Parent, Stealing Time magazine, and xoJane.
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