Normally, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with 13-year-old Jem, a talented chess player. But now, she really might die if she traveled solo. Their dystopian world has been struck by SitkaAZ13, a terrible disease with no cure. Pest, as the disease is commonly known, affects everyone once they reach their late teens. The few remaining adults, called “the Cured,” are feared for their unraveled minds and vicious characters. One mysterious figure, “Master,” stands out among the scant population. Through sporadic radio appearances, he claims to hold the cure for Pest. That spark of hope pushes scores of children to cross the now-barren land in hopes of reaching him. Clare and Jem quickly learn to put aside their differences and even become friends--perhaps more. Accompanied by an eclectic band of very young children, they struggle onward towards Master. Their long journey is perilous, and to live past eighteen the youths must learn lessons that some adults never realize if they want. Can they trust Master--or even each other?
Simply put, The Garden of Darkness is the best book that I have read in a long time. It takes a familiar idea--what if there was a huge, deadly pandemic?--and takes it down a fascinating route. Most of the book is about Clare and Jem’s group, but every few chapters are devoted to Master, which I thought was very clever. It helped the plot move along faster, and also gives a deliciously nasty sense of foreboding to the story. The plot is relatively straightforward--get to Master and don’t die along the way. However, a series of unexpected occurrences and new members to the pack make sure that they reader never becomes bored. The characters are incredibly realistic, not clichéd; for example, Clare loves to read. I almost wished that I was on the journey with them! While there was a romance, it did not overwhelm the really important parts of the story; rather, it served as a foil to all of the horrors around them. A post-apocalyptic novel with dramatic twists and intriguing ideas, The Garden of Darkness is bound to be popular among those who wonder about the borders between life, death, and insanity.