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Review: The Gardens of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal

Summary 
“After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding. 

Meanwhile, her sister Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized; the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back. 

But when the going gets rough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of  losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.”

Review 
No matter what we believe in, God, a higher power, ourselves, the human spirit; sometimes we lose that faith and fall into despair. Why even the most devout and steadfast tend to lose their way. The Garden of Happy Endings is all about despair and how sometimes we fall prey to our inner most insecurities and fears and how we must overcome them and deal with the terrible things that happen in our lives. 

It was a little challenging for me to get through this book. Not because it was not interesting but because this novel hit close to home. Lately, I have been feeling a little lost and this book really helped me out. I would recommend this book to anyone who is feeling a little lost or in despair as a way to cope with whatever they are going through. 

Elsa has turned her back on God before: the first time because she was not allowed to be a priest due to her gender; the second because her husband-to-be decided to became a priest (something she could not do); and lastly, because a young life was taken violently from her congregation. Though essentially faithless, Elsa presses on, trying to lead her lost sheep as best she can. Yet the lost cannot lead the lost, and thus Elsa is asked to take a sabbatical.  

Sensing her distress, Tamsin, Elsa’s older sister comes to her aid and suggest she comes back to Pueblo, Colorado, her home town. Being that she is asked to take Sabbatical, Elsa agrees and returns home with her sister. 

Upon her arrival, she seeks counsel from her old friend and former lover, Joaquin, who is now known as the catholic priest Father Jack. He thinks she should get involved with the community garden project as well as volunteer for the soup kitchen. This way she can stay busy as well as help people, something that she truly loves to do. At the same time, he wants her to really meditate, pray and think on her relationship with God or lack thereof. Figure out a way to come back, find her faith again and deal with the clouds of darkness in her heart. 

Thus he pairs her with Deacon, a local landscaper who also runs the AA meetings for the church. An attractive man with an outdoorsy kind of look and sweet Southern charm, Elsa cannot help but find herself drawn to this man and his good hearted nature. 

As things progress with the community garden project, Elsa finds herself enjoying life again; however Tamsin’s life is taking a turn for the worse. Federal agents have seized her house, frozen her accounts, and worst of all, will not let her back in her to get her things. To add to her dismay, she finds out that her husband has embezzled millions of dollars and he is being indicted. With nowhere else to go, she must now live with her sister in their childhood home, going from a lavished, privileged life to a more modest, albeit poor lifestyle (Tamsin’s thinking) and depend on Elsa to take care of her. 

Now Elsa must be a shepherd to her lost sister and suggests she volunteer in the soup kitchen to keep herself busy as well. Surprisingly enough, Tamsin finds herself enjoying serving food to those less fortunate and actually realizing how small her problems are, almost completely forgetting her husband is a criminal who abandoned her. 

Both sisters seem to be healing yet there are still some old wounds to be licked. Elsa must deal with the cause of this recent withdrawal from her faith as well as the blooming crush she has on Deacon and the jealously coming from her old friend Joaquin. Tamsin must learn to let go of having things and her comfortable lifestyle to enjoy what she still does have as well as deal with her emotions toward her criminal of a husband. 

The Garden of Happy Endings is truly an inspirational and teaching literary piece of work. It is like a guide for readers who are going through some things in their lives and showing them that you are not alone, that others have gone through this too. Most importantly, this novel shows that we are all seeds in the garden of life, just trying to grow and with time, compassion and a little love, we can get through the worst of things.

Reviewed by Camia Rhodes  

Book Information
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 4/17/2012
Pages: 416

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