Galilee Garner, the narrator of Margaret Dilloway’s novel The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, is a complex individual. Named by her parents after a “hippie” trip to the Holy Land in the 1970s, she prefers to go by Gal. She is a high school biology teacher in her mid-thirties who has suffered from kidney failure since she was a child. In her spare time, she breeds roses, hoping to create a new rose that will win prizes and be sold to the consumer market.
The book’s title is a little heavy handed; okay, we get it, Gal is as prickly as the thorny roses she breeds. But she is worth getting to know. I liked that the book’s narrator is herself somewhat unlikable. She felt more believable because of her difficult personality traits. She lives a rigid life – she has to, because of her kidney failure – which causes issues with her best friend and with the principal at her school.
Gal has a sister Becky. Becky has always been spacey, irresponsible, and a user of drugs and alcohol. She has been a neglectful mother to her one child, Riley, and soon after the book begins Riley arrives unannounced at Gal’s school. Becky’s job is sending her to Hong Kong for several months, so she has sent her daughter to live with Gal. Now, in addition to work, kidney dialysis, and rose breeding, Gal is thrust into the role of Riley’s guardian.
I enjoyed the relationship between Gal and Riley and found it quite believable. The information about undergoing kidney dialysis and breeding roses seemed well researched. Even Becky, who is unsympathetic in many ways, is well rounded as we come to understand how difficult it was for her growing up, competing for her parents’ attention with her sick sister Gal.
I thought a possible romance for Gal was superfluous but aside from that I found the plot interesting and credible. I wanted to know what happened next. I like a book without a neat, tidy ending, and this book’s ending was satisfactory without everything wrapping up perfectly for Gal.
If you are a gardener or someone who enjoys novels about interesting characters and family relationships, you might enjoy Margaret Dilloway’s The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. The library's book clubs had excellent discussions about this book.