The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway (Putnam Adult; 368 pages; $25.95).
Galilee “Gal” Garner is not your average heroine in Margaret Dilloway’s second novel The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. Gal is short, tiny, prickly, and in need of a kidney transplant. Without one, she will die.
Despite the bleak outlook, Dilloway provides readers an uplifting story about family and forgiveness. She also gives us a gal to root for.
Gal has already undergone two kidney transplants and years of dialysis. She had her first transplant at the age of twelve; her mother was the donor. At 24, she underwent her second, but this kidney lasted only four years. She has been on dialysis for eight years when the novel opens.
“The odds of death go up with each year you spend on dialysis. In year two, the survival rate is sixty-four percent. Year five, thirty-three percent. By year ten, it drops to only ten percent.” For Gal, then, time is running out.
But it’s complicated. There simply are not enough kidneys to go around. As Dilloway explains, “People don’t line up to donate kidneys like they do to donate blood.” Organ donation is a subject close to Dilloway’s heart. Her sister-in-law is a three-time kidney transplant recipient. Gal’s struggle could very well be Dilloway’s sister-in-law’s own struggle. Dilloway really does raise awareness of the subject, and I applaud her for that.
Gal is a biology teacher at a small private school. She loves her students (well, most of them anyway) and she loves her roses. In fact, before we learn about Gal’s kidney problems, we learn about her roses. That is just how much they mean to her.
“I am a rose breeder,” Gal proudly affirms. “Not just a rose grower.” Roses are her hobby, but she hopes to make them her vocation someday. When she is not undergoing dialysis or teaching, Gal patiently cross-pollinates different specimens, hoping for one that is uncommonly beautiful and fragrant. “My greatest hope,” she confides, “is to get a rose into the American Rose Society test gardens, where a few select new roses are grown in different climates to see how they fare for two years.”
Roses, Gal admits, are “difficult and obstinate.” They only thrive “under a set of specific and limited conditions.” That is why she loves roses so much: she and the roses are both difficult and obstinate. This is Gal’s life.
One day, though, Gal’s structured existence is thrown for a loop. Her niece, Riley, the daughter of Gal’s older, estranged and twisted sister arrives in need of some care of her own. Gal discovers that raising a teenager is much different than teaching one. Unsurprisingly, the two initially butt heads.
Riley, though, may be just what Gal needs. And Riley herself is desperate for a maternal figure. Dilloway has the two help each other.
Teenagers, Gal discovers, are a lot like roses. Teens need attention and nourishment. You have to give them an optimum environment. Fertilize if needed. And, yes, sometimes you even have to wash the bugs off. Sometimes things can get a little thorny. Who knows? A beautiful and fragrant rose may grow.
Dilloway’s second novel is much better than her previous work, How to be an American Housewife. Although I did not like The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns as much as Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers, I do feel it will appeal to Diffenbaugh’s fans. There are similarities in the stories, yet there are also some big differences. Dilloway provides helpful and wonderful information about growing and caring for roses in this book. If you love roses, I urge you to read Dilloway’s story.