I'm not sure I can communicate effectively just how much I appreciate this book, but here goes.
Let me preface this by sharing that Denise Hildreth Jones is one of my all time favorite authors. I have read every book she has written. Some more than once (I can't get enough Savannah...I laugh out loud - even in the second and third readings....but I digress) and "The First Gardener" truly exceeded my expectations. It's true, I was prepared to like it, but really, I *loved* it.
We begin with the enviable and lovely life of the first family of the great state of Tennessee. They are beautiful inside and out, successful, in love, kind to others...the happy list goes on and on. They long for many children but have only one, their 5 year old daughter, Maddie. She is the light of their lives and a delight to all. Jeremiah Williams is the Head Gardener of the governor's mansion and has been tending the first families' gardens for 25 years. He has a special place in his heart for this entire family. When tragedy strikes and all of their lives are forever changed, he is an integral part of their healing.
The entire story is handled in ways that I found realistic without being hopeless; funny, yet never irreverent; and most importantly, it communicated biblical truths without being even a little trite - especially in the face of such major heartbreak. At the risk of sounding a little dramatic, The First Gardener actually changed my life.
What a book! It's kind of sad and happy at the same time. Very up-close portrait of grief, pain, miscarriage, depression, etc., but also God's grace, the enduring love and support of a spouse, family and friends.
For over twenty-five years Jeremiah Williams has tended the award-winning gardens that grace the Tennessee governor's mansion. He's seen First families come and go, but this one has captured his heart in a special way. First lady Mackenzie London and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for a decade to have a child. Though in the midst of starting a re-election campaign and enduring new political struggles, nothing could be sweeter than their current state of life--because they are sending their five year-old daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten. But tragedy soon rips their world apart, sending the state of Tennessee into mourning, and Mackenzie into a grief and blackness so deep that it nearly chokes the life from her. Jeremiah realizes God hasn't just called him to tend the gardens of the governor's mansion, but the decaying garden within Mackenzie's heart. As he and her friends fight for her, Jeremiah works diligently to help her understand what has taken him years to discover.
The Fist Gardener is a heart-wrenching southern tale of love, grief, and hope. Denise Hildreth Jones crafts an excellent story that, in my opinion, earns her a place alongside renowned authors such as Liz Curtis Higgs and Francine Rivers, as she masters almost every area of creating a story that moves the reader's heart and stirs the emotions, while displaying brilliant and clever literary technique.
She blends complex emotions and messages into a thought-provoking story while seamlessly mixing in comedy and southern flare. Her brilliance in capturing Jeremiah's voice brings him to life and endears him to the reader. In fact, she brings each character to life in a such a way that they are no longer just characters, but friends that you find yourself rooting for as they struggle.
For those who have walked through the same grief as Mackenzie, you will find this story exposing pieces of your heart and making them vulnerable. But you will also find healing.
This book is especially great for book clubs and church reading groups as they can enjoy digging through the deeper literary devices of the story and discussing them--I personally loved the entire gardening symbol and found the spiritual impact so touching that I just bawled. I'm still bawling!
This book is not for those who seek a light-hearted, entertaining read. This novel will challenge you to summon the most vulnerable areas of your heart--yet it's so worth it. In a five out five star rating I give The First Gardner a six!
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
It isn't often that I underline great portions of fictional books, but I colored all over this one! "The First Gardener" is a touching story of dealing with grief and learning to live through, with, and in spite of it. It's a story about trusting God when He appears to be out to get you. It's a story about never giving up on the people you love.
The story itself is told in narrative form. But it begins and contains chapters throughout of the first gardener's thoughts about all that's going on in the Tennessee governor's mansion. Jeremiah cares deeply about the family he serves, prays for them, and ministers as God leads--even when it gets him into trouble sometimes. His words were the ones I spent the most time underlining.
Author Denise Hildreth Jones has a gift for making readers care deeply about the characters in her books. I loved the southern spunk of the first lady's mom and three best friends. I hurt for Gray and Mackenzie as they suffered through all that they did. And I looked forward to seeing which flowers Jeremiah would choose for Mackenzie and what each of them meant. He gave me something new to consider on my personal flower hunts.
If you enjoy tear-jerkers full of profound life thoughts, I recommend "The First Gardener" for you. I thank Tyndale House Publishers for sending it to me for my honest review.
In all my years of gardening, I never knew there were meanings attached to certain flowers. Not until I read The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones. I was captured by Denise's Southern charm from the very first page giving me a vivid picture of the characters and their lives. It's a book filled with tragedy, yet giving hope for healing. A must read for all you gardeners out there. Add this one to your bookshelf today!