Nothing is more important to 36-year-old Gal Garner than tending her roses and making sure her high school students are pushed to their limits. When she unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her teenage niece, Gal is slowly transformed, learning the joys of taking care of others and of bending the rules.
Galilee Garner has learned to take control of her life. Suffering from lifelong kidney disease and two failed kidney transplants, she knows it’s important to follow the rules and keep to a regimen, including overnight dialysis several times a week. In addition to teaching high school Biology, Gal is a hobbyist rose breeder, another activity that requires careful planning, precise timing, and daily tending. She dreams of creating a prize-winning cultivar and selling her roses to other plant lovers.
Thanks to her scheduled life, Gal doesn’t have time or desire to have friends or to date; besides, relationships can get messy and are difficult to manage. She is used to her solitary existence and thus is completely at a loss when her 15-year-old niece shows up, unannounced, to live with her. Riley is a troubled girl who has been raised by a substance-abusing mother who sees nothing wrong with shipping her daughter off to an aunt so she can take a job overseas. Gal and Riley, forced to make an uneasy alliance, must find a way to connect and build a family together.
In The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, Margaret Dilloway uses roses and the intricate breeding process as a metaphor for both Gal and Riley. To help them survive tough circumstances, aunt and niece have erected prickly exteriors that protect and hide their vulnerabilities. But if they are handled with care and tenderness, they will eventually bloom, despite mistakes and false starts.
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns spotlights Dilloway’s talent for creating believable characters who have a way of getting under your skin, even if you don’t much like them at first. As Gal and Riley grow and change — gaining self-confidence and trust — you see beyond their tough outer shells to the beauty within.
Much of the success of the novel stems from the amazing authenticity of the more eccentric aspects of the book. Dilloway drew on personal experience and family circumstances to provide real-life details to the story, including the fascinating world of competitive rose breeding. She also has experience with being a guardian of a teen and caring for a loved one with serious kidney disease. These elements of The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns draws us in and keeps us fully focused on Gal’s world from beginning to end.
Although there may be few surprises at the end of Dilloway’s beautifully written novel, Gal and Riley’s journey to forgiveness and love is one you don’t want to miss.