Whew! This was one of the creepiest stories that I’ve read in a long time. It was just so damn sick that I can’t wrap my mind around it. This one was disturbing and bizarre, but I loved it!
This story is told from the POV of Maya, a young woman that has just been rescued from a serial killer, and the FBI agents that are interrogating her. Maya refuses to be rushed as she recounts her tale, to the utter frustration of the agents. The story alternates between the past and present, as Maya provides the horrifying details of her abduction and captivity.
While this type of storytelling, with frequent flashbacks, often seems disruptive and disjointed to me, it really worked for this story. In fact, I’m not sure that I would’ve enjoyed the story if it hadn’t been broken up between the past and present. Too much time in the garden all at once might have been too much to handle. Regardless, I think that the way this story was told, gradually revealing the secrets of the garden, was brilliant.
Maya, along with several other girls, lived for years in captivity. They were abducted by a man they refer to only as “The Gardener” and kept as living “butterflies” in a fully enclosed “garden”. The Gardener is, not surprisingly, one very sick individual. He repeatedly rapes the girls and eventually murders them, preserving their bodies in glass cases. Yet, he has convinced himself that he has “saved” these girls and that he has somehow honored them in death.
As if The Gardener weren’t enough to handle, he has two sons. Avery, is feared by all of the girls. He is sadistic and cruel, taking pleasure in the suffering of the butterflies. Like his father, he is one sick individual. The younger son is less violent, but disturbed in his own way. While Avery relishes the taboo activities that take place in the garden, his younger brother struggles with the brutal reality.
Despite the dark nature of this story, I did not find the abuse to be incredibly graphic or detailed. It is clear that the girls are repeatedly raped and abused, but most of the details are left to readers’ imagination. Believe me, the details of the abuse are not required. More effort was put into describing the aftermath of the abuse, describing the physical effects of the abuse rather than the actual incidents, giving a pretty clear picture of what transpired.
Since most of the girls are taken as teenagers, child abuse is clearly a prevalent theme. Toward the end of the book there is one particularly disturbing account of abuse that is especially difficult to read. If these are topics that you cannot handle, then you might want to reconsider reading this book.
Although the scenario painted in this book is possible, it is very implausible. This is the type of story where you have to be willing to overlook some of the details that are highly unlikely. I questioned many things, as I listened to Maya’s account of her captivity.
For example, there are around 20 girls between 16 and 21 years of age. Yet, they never try to fight back or gang up on any of the 3 guys, even though they are usually alone and unarmed. Okay, maybe they’re just so damn broken and conditioned that they wouldn’t even try.
Then there’s the fact that the police search the grounds at one point, but never even go into this huge “garden” within a garden. How exactly do you make a structure with 20+ bedrooms and an indoor atrium with water features completely disappear? I don’t buy it.
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it was a bit too convenient for me. I didn’t think that the “connection” made was necessary at all. It was just one more thing that was too hard to swallow for me.
That being said, I very much enjoyed this story. It was dark, disturbing and creepy as hell. It kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, waiting to see how Maya and the others came to be rescued as I took in the horrifying account of their time in captivity. It was fascinating and brilliantly told.
I listened to the Audible version of the book and the narration was pretty good. I liked the female narrator more than the male narrator, but since his parts were fewer it was not a big factor for me. Overall, it was a great book.