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The Corner Garden

by Lesley Krueger

A novel narrated by a 15-year-old girl is an obvious candidate for young adult readers, and Lesley Krueger’s third novel, The Corner Garden, has strong crossover potential. Anyone offering this rich, complex novel to a young reader, however, should be aware that it is a potent package, in both language and content.

Jessie is scarily bright, scathingly funny, and hates change, forced upon her in the shape of a move to Toronto, her single mother’s marriage, and the jarring prospect of a new sibling. She forms a tentative friendship with a prickly elderly neighbour whose garden seems like an oasis of peace and beauty.

Krueger, who teaches writing at Ryerson University in Toronto, uses the diaries of Jessie and her neighbour to flesh out the story of their friendship. Martha van Tellingen grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland, and in her writing reveals a life-long cover-up of her own youthful folly and the brutal madness of her adult world. Jessie, freewheeling out of control, experimenting with identity, flirting with slashing and death, sees none of this. For her, van Tellingen is a mentor, albeit a reluctant one, opening up the culture of Goethe and Nietzche, their iconoclasm resonating with Jessie’s own.

At times the European portion of the story is convoluted, especially when Krueger brings in the diaries of a third young woman, whose fate still weighs on Tellingen’s conscience. But the narrative’s intensity ultimately reaches a discomforting pitch reminiscent of J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee. The intertwined narratives and leaps between consciousnesses may challenge younger readers, but the rewards, for adults and teenagers alike, are worth it.