One of the things I love about Gal, the main character in The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, is how she always thinks she’s right. Whether it’s about rose breeding, student grades, or friendship, Gal has very very definite ideas about everything, with no room for error.
For most, this egotism would be inexcusable and kind of annoying. For Gal, however, it’s a necessary egotism. Gal has had kidney disease since she was a child, and since she was a child, she has had to believe strongly in herself and her abilities. If she did not have this strong belief in her convictions, she would not be able to stand up for herself with her doctors. She would not have the will to fight through all her secondary infections and transplants. She would have died a long time ago.
But this egotism has also permeated other aspects of her life, driving others away.
Her parents have encouraged this attitude to a large degree, in ways both deliberate and unintentional. They have tried to give her whatever she wants and needs, sometimes to the detriment of her older sister, Becky. The disease has affected her family in ways big and small.
A couple of years ago, as I was germinating the idea for this book, I was at a local mall. The children’s hospital had an art display and commentary created by the siblings of kids with chronic illness. The siblings, who are often forgotten. Not on purpose, but forgotten nonetheless.
One child’s brother had kidney failure, just like my husband’s sister had. The boy said he understood his brother was very sick, he loved his brother very much, and he knew his parents had to spend a lot of time with his brother in the hospital; yet his final comment was, “I think my parents love my brother more than they love me.”
I don’t think that sentiment is uncommon for children in these situations.
In some ways, the book is about how we can grow out of our childhood roles and let go of our idealistic expectations of family. Becky has experienced the fallout from being in a family where she got limited attention. Her pain at being the outsider has resulted in a stunted adulthood, but she needs to learn how to parent her own child and bear responsibility for herself.
Gal has to learn to admit that she is not always correct, and that the point of view of others is worthwhile. She must relax her grip on human relationships to open herself up to them. She has to learn that frailty is human and natural, and that perfection, perhaps, cannot even be found in her roses. Yet she has to do this while still maintaining her fierce devotion to life.
Do they succeed? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Thirty-six-year-old Gal Garner lives a regimented life. Her job teaching biology and her struggle with kidney disease keep her toggling between the high school, the hospital, and her home on a strict schedule.
Only at home, in her garden, does Gal come alive. It’s here that she experiments with Hulthemia roses, painstakingly cross-pollinating various specimens in the hopes of creating a brand-new variation of spectacular beauty. But even her passion has a highly structured goal: Gal wants to win Queen of Show in a major competition and bring that rose to market.
Then one afternoon Gal’s teenaged niece Riley, the daughter of her estranged sister, arrives. Unannounced. Neither one of them will ever be the same.
Filled with gorgeous details of the art of rose breeding, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns is a testament to the redemptive power of love.