About the Book
Summary: Rather than spending one more day amongst the humiliating remarks to the amusement of her fellow peers, Emily Fickeltin runs away. Or, rather, walks away. Emily is misunderstood and disliked but what seems to be every other child her age and on top of it all, she is overweight. Perfectly pleasantly plump, her mother calls her, but Emily feels far from perfect. Her attempt to escape her pain leads her to discover a hidden place with new hope for friends and acceptance. Stumbling into Phea’s garden, an eccentric woman skilled in the arts of gardening and imagination, Emily finds she is not alone in her troubles. Phea and her friend rabbit have a past of their own they wish to run from and together the three battle their innermost demons as their world crumbles around them. Will they ever discover peace and acceptance? These lost and disheartened souls must find who they are before they are all lost forever.
My Thoughts: Sticks n’ Stones and the Garden of Phea falls under the genre of magical realism; where Emily, a 10 year-old girl, lives a difficult life with an absent father, a mother who ignores her, and relentless bullying by her peers. One day, Emily decides to escape by hiding in old wooden chest in the library which magically transports her to a beautiful garden where she meets the mysterious Phea and her companion, a white rabbit (uh-huh) named Mr. Tinkle Toes.
With Phea’s friendship, Emily begins a journey toward healing as she uncovers the history of the chest. But, Emily is not the only one who undergoes drastic changes. Phea herself and even Mr. Tinkle Toes also harbor secrets from their past. Each of these characters struggle with their identity and each is given the chance to be reborn as they come to accept and love themselves for who they are.
There was something about Sticks n’ Stones and the Garden of Phea which moved me deeply and had me drawing comparisons to Alice in Wonderland. The author does a great job of introducing Emily and having the reader sympathize with her as we see get a glimpse into what it is like to be bullied and to have a poor system of support even from the adults in her life. Here is a passage that I thought just nailed it:
The thought came to her like a knife to the heart. Rather than leaning on the tree out of exhaustion, the tree now held Emily upright from the sagging and disabling weight of sadness.
Other children. Why do they tease me so? She wondered desperately.
Her head hung as low as a head could hang as she thought about what she could possibly done, or what she might be able to do to make them stop. Then, Emily began to cry. She cried about the bus that morning, she cried about the teasing that afternoon, and the she cried… just because.
Phea is an equally interesting character who also undergoes a significant transformation. I don’t want to give too much of the story away but her back story is quite moving as well. The lessons learned from both of these characters is that we can have surrounding circumstances out of our control and there will always be people whose words can be cutting; but, it is within our own power to stand up for ourselves and live a life true to our own self. Individuals do have great strength and can control certain aspects of their lives such as eating well and exercise in order to lead a healthy life. I love the weaving in of the garden and flowers as symbols of how the main character “blossoms” by the end of the book.
I felt that Emily’s character was very well-developed and it felt like I was along for her journey: feeling what she was feeling when she was treated badly by her peers and unjustly by the adults in her life, and her triumph when she makes changes in her life and learns to love herself. In contrast, I felt that Phea’s character was under-developed. I would have liked to see her story moving alongside of Emily’s because her journey was just as interesting. Regardless, the author excelled at having me emotionally invested in the story.
Finally, I have a comment about the cover of the book, which is unrelated to my enjoyment of the book. Given the age of the main character (10),the length of the book, and the themes covered in the book, I would classify this book as middle grade, perhaps upper middle grade given the complexity of the ending. If that is the case, I would say that this cover does not fit with the story. It is a lovely cover in and of itself, but will likely be unappealing to a middle grade crowd. To test my theory, I shared the story with my daughter and then showed her the cover. She said (and I quote): “If I saw that cover I would think the book is boring. The cover should have a picture of the girl holding the flower either in a garden or field or even in the shadows.” In short, covers matter and a good rule of thumb for middle grade is to have the main character on the cover.
My Bottom Line: Sticks n’ Stones and the Garden of Phea is a heartfelt tale featuring a trio of sympathetic characters who are brought together through the magic of an old wooden chest. Each character undergoes a transformative journey involving letting go of the past and learning to love themselves. I recommend this book to middle grade girls in particular who may be able to relate to Emily as they navigate the tricky waters of middle school themselves. Ages 9+
* This book was provided to me free-of-charge from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own. The author is participating in our book promotion services.
About the Author: Angela Burkhead
Angela Burkhead is a full time writer and a full time mom. Of the two jobs, she cannot decide which is more difficult and time consuming, but both bring the joys of fulfillment and accomplishment. She and her son currently reside in Richmond, KY, just north of Kentucky’s arts and crafts capital, Berea, KY, where she was born and raised. Her newest book, Sticks n’ Stones and the Garden of Phea, an upper middle grade/young adult fantasy novel, was published February of 2014.
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