Merilla City: The Mystic Garden
by T.T. Handfield
Trafford Publishing

"The garden was beautiful, a piece of heaven on Earth, but hidden under the beauty resided evil."

A brother and sister go in search of a mysterious garden in this magical children's book by T.T. Handfield. Gina is a mischievous little girl who always seems to be on the lookout for trouble, while her older brother, Jonah, is the more serious and focused of the two. On one particularly boring day, Gina suggests that they go looking for the garden that their grandfather used to tell them stories about. Jonah agrees, if only to get his sister off his back, and they come upon an ugly garden with dead trees and a muddy pond. Disappointed at the sight, they turn to go, but Gina trips and grabs hold of a gem-like rock. Suddenly, the old garden is replaced with a majestic garden full of fruit, fish, frogs, and flowers. The beautiful watercolor illustrations that accompany the text and the lush and magical descriptions make the garden spring to life. But when they get home, Jonah, despite experiencing the garden himself, refuses to believe it is real. So Gina sneaks out one night, intent on proving her brother wrong. Finding the magical gem again, the garden comes to life all around Gina just like it had before. There Gina meets the lovely, but mysterious and possibly dangerous, VV Lily, and the peacefulness of the garden is interrupted by a frightening thunder storm.

The next morning Jonah awakes and is startled to find that he is the only who remembers Gina. Their mother has forgotten she has a daughter, and Gina's room is empty of all her things. Upon returning to the garden, Jonah is still unable to find his sister. Trapped in the garden paradise, Gina wonders if she will ever see her family again, and VV Lily vows to never let Gina go. Despite the numerous style errors within the narrative, Handfield does a fine job of creating characters, such as the precocious and daring Gina, that children will identify with and love. Handfield's mystic garden is sure to blossom in children's imaginations. As the book ends on a major cliffhanger, children will be clamoring to find out what will happen to Gina and Jonah next as they continue on their enchanted journey.

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