The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns: A Novel. Margaret Dilloway. Penguin Group (USA). July 2013. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425260975.
Galilee Gartner, a private high school biology teacher, raises roses as a hobby, but she’s not the kind who mails away for different styles or breeds of these gorgeous flowers. She breeds them, experiments with different breeds that are both already popular, specialized and loved as well as trying to breed new types. Her dream is to create a beautiful rose that also has a magnificent fragrance. While she calls herself an amateur and may be compared to other famous rose breeders, she knows a million times more than the average lover of roses and is so deeply passionate about her hobby.
It brings her peace in the middle of her medical problems that require routine dialysis and avoidance of all infections in her very high risk status. She’s not popular with students and is even described as too “tough” but she refuses to yield to mediocrity, an attitude that has come to threaten her job, even though she is tenured.
She’s got one good friend, Dara, whom she could lose because of her caustic and hurtful comments; but Dara, an art teacher, is smarter than that and a genuinely compassion person who knows when to appear to help and when to cut to live her own life.
Her life is about to change even more dramatically with the arrival of her niece, Riley, a teen who dresses in Gothic style that Gal finds appalling. But now the surprises begin once Gal gets through her initial rage with her irresponsible sister, Becky, who is a functional drug addict and possibly alcoholic as well. Becky knows she’s not wanted but has turned out to be quite a gal which Gal is about to discover. The external attitude is deceiving indeed and our journey with Aunt Gal and Riley is filled with unexpected moments and growing maturity – on the part of both women!
Gal even discovers she can develop a friendly relationship with a new chemistry teacher and that it is possible to merge science with art to the benefit of both teachers and students.
Margaret Dilloway is a literate writer who has crafted a fascinating novel about the parallel of breeding relationships with roses, family and friends. The quote is so apt in the beginning of the book, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.” What an absolutely phenomenal read with a message that inspires, fascinates and never descends to maudlin.