Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Gardenia, by Kelsey Sutton


3.5 – 4 stars

Seventeen-year-old Ivy Erickson has one month, twenty-seven days, four hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds to live.
Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been able to see countdown clocks over everyone’s heads indicating how long before they will die. She can’t do anything about anyone else’s, nor can she do anything about her own, which will hit the zero hour before she even graduates high school.
A life cut short is tragic, but Ivy does her best to make the most of it. She struggles emotionally with her deep love for on-again, off-again boyfriend Myers Patripski. She struggles financially, working outside of school to help her mom and her sister. And she struggles to cope with the murder of her best friend, another life she couldn’t save. Vanessa Donovan was killed in the woods, and everyone in town believes Ivy had something to do with it.
Then more girls start disappearing. Ivy tries to put her own life in order as she pieces together the truth of who ended Vanessa’s. To save lives and for her own sanity.
The clock is always ticking. And Ivy’s only hope is to expose the truth before it runs out completely.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

The science-fiction part of the premise of Gardenia may sound strikingly similar to those of Numbers, When, even Denton’s Little Deathdate if you want to go that far. I haven’t read those three, so I cannot say if Gardenia is original enough, but I can say that it’s definitely more invested in the emotional elements that come with this concept. It’s not too unique, but the overall writing and character writing kept me on the edge of my seat, making it a very pleasing story.

First off, I loved the setting. The story takes place in a very small town named Kennedy, a place that you either stay in forever or escape when you get the chance. It’s underdeveloped and the people residing in it are more or less bleak and stagnant in their lives. Ivy herself struggles financially, as she lives with her mother and sister in a trailer out in the woods, working for her uncle in his restaurant to survive. Sutton painted such an easily-understandable picture, every detail popped out the page effortlessly.

The writing was my favorite part of the book. It carried such an emotional and loving nature to it which fit right in with Ivy’s story. It’s a short, fast book, but the way the book muses on about life, death, and making the best out of a situation is so relatable and important. It’s not forced or pretentious but told in a rather realistic and brutally honest way, that might depress you to an extent, but you’ll love it because it’s so well-done. It’s kind of how I felt with reading All The Rage, it hurts, but it hurts so good.

The characters were also an integral part of shaping the story’s emotional depth. Ivy was a pretty realistic character, there was carefree, cynical side to her as well as a vulnerable side. Her thoughts about dying, using her gift for something useful, and finding solace in the fact that she has a short time to live were heartbreaking but reassuring as well. I developed a great liking for her throughout the book, and the countdown to the day she dies had me pretty emotional. I also loved her family and her relationship with them, as the story progresses, Ivy seeks to inspire her mother and sister, specifically her sister, to go out and live her life as passionately as possible. Their familial love is realistic and heartwarming, and it was great to see a family aspect explored more than a romance. Ivy and Myers’ complicated relationship was also one of my favorite parts of the book, it was so messy and frustrating but I loved those aspects because it made their romance so much more real.

My only complaint was the lackluster thriller/mystery plot line going on. It was hardly fleshed out and was not consistent with the rest of the story. The “seeing the death date” aspect was actually well-described and relevant to Ivy and her mission but her quest to find Vanessa’s killer fluctuated constantly throughout the book. Meaning, there wasn’t enough “mystery” to match with the contemporary concepts in the story. And while I’m satisfied with the contemporary takeover, I came into this book thinking it was a thriller/mystery. It wasn’t nearly as chilling as I wanted it to be and the final reveal of the killer and the motive behind the murder was a bit disjointed and random. The reveal wasn’t completely surprising either, as there are only so many characters we’ve been acquainted with, and the fact that some are easily ruled out as the book goes on makes the finale even more predictable. I like the idea of the death dates as it opens up many themes surrounding life and death, but I think Gardenia should have been marketed as a contemporary instead. It definitely excels in that department.

Overall, Gardenia is a solid read, that is excellent in its contemporary themes but lacking in development of the mystery/suspense story line I was expecting. Nevertheless, I would recommend to anyone looking for an engaging plot and well-written characters, as well as an interesting take on the “I can see death dates” concept.