STARRED REVIEW
May 2020

The Heirloom Garden

By Viola Shipman
The latest novel from Viola Shipman is a beautifully understated story about the loss and discovery of family and ourselves.
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It’s poetic that internationally bestselling author Wade Rouse uses his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as the pen name for his books centered on family and heirlooms. His portrayal of strong, emotionally engaging protagonists is fresh and free of excessive sentimentality, while his unrushed pace and elegant language capture an old-world charm that makes for an enchanting reading experience. His latest novel, The Heirloom Garden, is a beautifully understated story about the loss and discovery of family and ourselves.

In the summer of 1944, Iris Maynard loses her loving husband to World War II. Four years later, she loses her beloved daughter, Mary, to polio. Flash forward to 2003, when Iris, now reclusive, finds sole comfort in the flowers she propagates. They are her friends, family and the focus of her lonely life. When the Peterson family—steadfast Abby, husband Cory, who returned from the Iraq War a changed man, and their precocious daughter, Lily—moves in next door, Iris is drawn to them. Together, the four find healing connections and become a family.

Shipman patiently and gently unearths the deeply flawed characters’ sorrows and reveals the delicate buds of happiness that eventually blossom. Iris’ anguish over the loss of her loved ones is palpable, and every memory stirs sadness, which makes bright moments—when she talks to her flowers and connects with the Petersons—so uplifting. Without making a political statement or moralizing, Shipman incorporates themes of loss and war into the story, credibly revealing how Abby’s family works through the effects of Cory’s PTSD. Iris’ and Abby’s alternating perspectives add a dynamic element to the story, while Iris’ flashbacks smoothly add backstory that deepens the connections among the characters.

At once heart-rending and hopeful, this story is a bouquet of sorrow and joy, perseverance and patience.

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The Heirloom Garden

The Heirloom Garden

By Viola Shipman
Graydon House
ISBN 9781525804618

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