The Locked Garden
It is 1900, and with the dawn of the new century comes a chance for Verna and Carlie to make a fresh start after the death of their mother two years earlier. Their father has taken a post in Michigan, in one of the newer mental asylums designed to treat its patients with meaningful work and pleasant surroundings. However, their mother’s sister, Aunt Maude, who comes to keep house, seems determined to make them live in mourning for ever. When Eleanor, a young, recovering patient, joins the household as a maid, the girls naturally warm to her and ignite Aunt Maude’s jealousy. The children’s schemes to get rid of their aunt and find love for their father unwittingly place the vulnerable Eleanor in jeopardy.
Though the novel reads lightly on the surface, its meaning runs deep. Whelan suggests several parallels between bereavement and mental illness, most notably in the way that the asylum becomes as cathartic for the grieving family as it is for the inmates. The locked garden of the title, kept for the more seriously disturbed patients, is a metaphor for the heart; some, like Aunt Maude and the girls’ father, are determined to keep emotions caged, while Verna, Carlie, and Eleanor want their love to roam freely. Since I enjoy closure, I was slightly frustrated by the open ending, but overall found the characters and plot engaging, and the subject fascinating. For middle grades and above.
– Susan Cook
The Locked Garden is a wonderful example of how minds can be reached by gentle treatment and pleasant surroundings. One of the things that especially struck me was that although the doctors lacked modern medicines, they still made great progress with their patients. Whelan’s characters are extremely well drawn. One of my favorite characters was Eleanor because she was such a friend to Carlie and Verna. I particularly enjoyed the part where she stood up to her demanding father and kept her job at the asylum. I would recommend this book for ages 8-11.
– Magdalen Dobson, Age 12