In The Cape Ann, Sullivan introduced us to young Lark Erhardt, her mother Arlene, and other family members. In the years leading up to World War II, Lark and her parents were living in Harvester, Minnesota. Gardenias continues their story, as Lark, Arlene, and Aunt Betty leave Harvester and Lark’s father to start a new life in San Diego. Aunt Betty’s husband is living in Los Angeles and working for one of the Hollywood studios, but they haven’t seen each other in some time. And Arlene has lost all faith with her husband after he gambled away the money she was saving to buy them a new home.
Lark leaves Harvester, her friends, and memories of a dear friend most reluctantly, but is soon caught up with her new neighbors in the makeshift housing development called the Project, filled with people who have drifted to San Diego from all over the country. She gets to know Shirley, a girl her age, who is utterly neglected by her family. Shirley is crude and lacks manners, but when Lark’s family get a piano, Shirley is drawn to it, and is found to have extraordinary talent. A subplot that runs throughout the novel chronicles Lark’s fascination with the enigmatic movie star Alicia Armand, whom Lark caught a glimpse of on the train ride from Minnesota to California.
Both The Cape Ann and Gardenias are magical books, filled with engaging characters and giving an excellent sense of the historical period. I recommend them highly, and hope to have the opportunity myself to read about Lark’s teenage years.