I read The China Garden by Liz Berry at 19, so I was a little older than your average Young Adult audience. But I’ve read enough Young Adult novels in my life to pick up on a prominent trend—my favorite trend, in fact. There’s no proper name for this trend, but it always involves plucking the main character—usually a coming-of-age heroine—out of her comfort zone, displacing her into some foreign and exotic locale where she meets an exasperating yet handsome young man and a cast of wildly eccentric characters. She finds herself in the middle of a mystery that only she, with the help of said handsome young man, can solve.
That being said, I’ve just summed up the plot of The China Garden. Coming-of-age heroine: 17 year old Clare Meredith. Exotic locale: a summer at Ravensmere, an ancient English estate. Handsome young man: Mark, the mysterious biker (bicyclist, not motorcyclist). Mystery: Celtic rituals, secret gardens, and shifty-eyed servants. With all these elements combined, you’ve got the ingredients to an exciting teen read.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for this formula. You’ve just seen me break it down from the big wheel-o’-plots, and yet, I can’t help falling for the story despite myself. I’ve always considered the heroine lucky; I want to be in her place! I’ve never been anywhere mildly foreign or exotic, never set foot in an ancient English mansion, never been plucked out of my suburban comfort zone. My teenage summers where spent chewing Bubbleyum at the mall—not exactly novel-worthy activities, unless you count the lazy summer evenings spent on my porch reading adventure serials. I’ve been there mentally, if that’s any comfort to my restless spirit.
As for The China Garden, I recommend it to all the young girls out there sitting on their porch and wishing they were somewhere else. Some images will stay with you if you’re still idealistic enough to let them in.