Title: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns
Author: Margaret Dilloway
Release Date: August 2, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Gal Garner is a biology teacher, and between that and her kidney disease, which requires her to go to the hospital multiple times per week for dialysis, she doesn’t have much time for hobbies. Gal makes the time for her roses, though. Gal doesn’t just grow roses; she breeds them, and she dreams of creating a prizewinning rose. For now, though, she is content with experimenting with her roses, All that changes, though, when her teenage niece Riley appears on her doorstep. Gal panics because she doesn’t have time to deal with a teenager, but she quickly realizes that Riley needs her. As Gal struggles to balance her life, will she find the happiness and health she so desires?
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns is a contemplative novel that has many facets. Gal is a prickly (no pun intended) woman who likes things to be her way. She has a routine and she doesn’t like to interrupt it. It’s Gal’s way of controlling her unpredictable life; she’s at the mercy of her kidneys, waiting for a transplant that she isn’t sure will come, and having everything in order is her way of coping. So when Riley shows up and upsets Gal’s neatly sectioned life, Gal isn’t thrilled.
But Gal quickly realizes that Riley needs her. Gal’s younger sister has always been irresponsible, so Gal is hardly surprised that she dumped her daughter on her sister with no notice. Riley is a great teenager, though she’s unsure of herself. She acts out like any other adolescent, but it’s clear that underneath she has serious abandonment issues. Riley wants to work hard and prove herself, and Gal realizes she has to make room for that.
This is a serious novel, but it’s never heavy or difficult to read. Gal has a lot to learn about herself, and some of these lessons are very hard realizations. Her character growth over the course of the novel is incredible, and that’s saying something considering she was fully realized when the novel began. I can’t say enough amazing things about Dilloway’s ability to write sympathetic characters the reader absolutely falls in love with. Readers will be very invested emotionally in both Gal and Riley; their ups and downs will affect the reader greatly. This is a book where the reader will laugh and cry, but will never fail to be entertained.
Gal’s rose-breeding adds an important element to the story in The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. Not only does it provide Gal an escape, a haven, but it also gives her something to look forward to. Before Riley, Gal’s life consisted of her job and dialysis. She had few close friends; roses gave her something to fill up her life. The dream of winning “Queen of Show” for one of her roses - it was enough to keep her going, to make her fight to live. Not only that, but the reader gets to learn about breeding roses, and Dilloway’s engaging writing style makes the subject simply fascinating.
I could go on and on about The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns for a simple reason: I absolutely loved it. I was completely riveted by this novel, completely invested in the outcome and Gal’s character growth. Dilloway’s an exceptionally talented writer, and I only regret one thing: that I didn’t pick up Dilloway’s much-lauded debut How to Be an American Housewife sooner. I can assure you I will be remedying that as expediently as possible.