Galilee Garner never felt her first name fit her quite right, so from early on, she opted to go by Gal. As a child, Gal’s life was forever changed when she lost a kidney due to an illness that went undiagnosed too long, and through one transplant, her health issues have dominated her life. Now at thirty-six, Gal receives dialysis every other night, and her days are spent balancing an established teaching career and indulging in her one great passion- growing and breeding roses. Margaret Dilloway’s The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns presents Gal with another life-changing experience, one that she never expected.
Gal’s life is spare, and purposefully so. Living a life of uncertainty as Gal has done for so many years, has left her resistant to connecting with others. She certainly doesn’t reach out in the name of romance to anyone, and she really can call only one person a friend, a teaching colleague, who often assists Gal when needed for rides to dialysis or assistance in her more pressing times of troubles with her illness. But mostly, Gal gets up, teaching biology at a private high school, and comes home to care for her precious roses. Gal sees the world in a fairly stark black-and-white manner, and within her routine, she isn’t pushed to break out of this viewpoint.
Change comes in the form of her teenaged niece, the daughter of Gal’s sister Becky, who abruptly leaves the country and sends her daughter Riley to live with Gal unannounced. Gal has become accustomed to a solitary life, and it is challenging for her to adjust to living with someone who needs her to act in a caregiver role with which she has no experience. But Gal eventually learns what it feels like to develop a relationship of give and take with another, in a way that benefits both her and her niece Riley.
I found the cover image to be somewhat misleading for this novel, for it makes it look much more frilly than it actually is. In fact, I think Gal herself would scoff at the cover image, given that she is gruff and curt and wouldn’t be caught dead in a lacy dress with a wide-brimmed fancy hat! From the beginning, Gal is not particularly likable, though she begins to soften over time as the story progresses, and as the title indicates, The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns is a tricky endeavor, for sure, but one with remarkable rewards in the end.