I’m late to this novel, last published in 2015, but I’m glad I found it. The smash cut opening finds Grae trying to protect her roommate Marcus from two queer-bashing construction workers. Grae is booked for assault when she uses some rebar in self-defense and soon we’re in front of a courthouse judge… where things take a turn.
I won’t spoil any of the surprises in this plot, even one this early, because they brought me such pleasure. Each turn is a step on Grae’s journey towards healing, eight years after she mysteriously dropped out of college only months before graduation. She’s also withdrawn from her well-off family, armoured up with piercings and tattoos, and is living in a slum with Marcus, a throwaway queer kid she rescued from the streets when he was 14.
With a rap sheet full of law-breaking, Grae fears going to prison mostly because she worries about Marcus surviving without her. Grae’s lack of motivation to save herself or to accept help from others runs right smack into people who love Grae more than she loves herself.
Sometimes the interwoven plot threads strained belief (especially running into people from the past), but I frankly found such joy in the humanity and grace on display that I didn’t care. More than once I cried as characters demonstrated such forgiveness while acknowledging all our human imperfections. I questioned whether I would or could have made the same choices, and that also added to the reading experience.
Yes, there’s a love story woven in too, but one embedded in Grae’s journey and made deliciously complicated by a major reveal of character connections. And the author has the guts to leave some relationships unresolved and imperfect, while still bringing Grae to a satisfying exit of her old life and into the possibilities of a future with friendship, family, and love… including love for oneself.
I think you’ll enjoy the journey if you read Stone Gardens.