‘Carter, do you know what romance means?’
‘Sap. Mush. Melodrama,’ I say.
‘It means a good story,’ he says. ‘To be romantic means to tell a story well. […] Be courageous enough to tell a story that’s true.'”
Mildred’s Garden, a new novel by Laura Boggess, rings true. It is a story told well. And I’m someone who does not often feel that way about romances, although sometimes I make an exception, But do you know what I love even more than discovering a great book? I love being wrong about one. And despite my anti-romance bias, I fell hard for Sam Gillenwater, whose Instagram handle is @giltheguitarman. Could it be because he’s a musician? Well, it’s not not that. Generosity can be wakened with a guitar.
Instagram is a place where author Laura Boggess enjoys playing.
“When things were so divisive politically, I avoided Facebook and dove into Instagram and the images instead of the words, trying to tell stories with pictures. It saved my mental health in so many ways,” she said. “It was not hiding from hard things, but tempering my real world because I work at a hospital, so I deal with a lot of health crises and hard stuff on a daily basis.”
Instagram becomes the initial vehicle through which Sam and Mildred’s relationship unfolds.
“One of the things that captivated him about her Instagram feed was the pictures of her garden, the flowers and the nature at the B&B, her family homestead,” she said. “Mildred tends her life the way she tends her garden, with such attention and love.”
For purely research purposes, Boggess visited B&Bs in West Virginia to get better connected with Mildred. The owners she met have strong ties to their communities.
“Most of the time it’s a connection to history, people wanting to restore old houses that have stories behind them,” she said. “I had trouble getting a room! Most were booked up until Christmas.”
As might be expected in a title from the Poetry Club series, Mildred’s Garden contains poems as well as songs, both from Sam’s pen.
“His antenna for inspiration is always tuned outward. He’s always looking for inspiration, for beauty, trying to capture it. What’s in the notebook are likely the roots of his songs but they start out as poems,” Boggess said.
But what I love most about this story is that it is courageous. It looks honestly at characters with mental health needs and addictions. Because Boggess is a psychologist, she is attuned to the biases and stigmas that still exist.
“To shine a light on addiction and mental health is something I think can only help make things better for people in the future so that seeking treatment can be normalized. There’s still a lot of negative connotations to mental health issues—they’re still seen as a weakness,” she said. “Instead of labeling them as sick, we have to see them as people.”
Mildred’s Garden also contains two refugees’ stories—one family from Vietnam and the other a Yezidi family. Each story is its own tale of love and loss, and those stories ground the central love story between Sam and Mildred.
“I found a story of Vietnamese boat people trying to leave, and I read where a baby was born on the boat. I started wondering, What happened to that baby? What I found was that story was not unusual.”
For more information about the Kurdish refugee crisis, she turned to Michelle DeRusha, whose family sponsored a Yezidi family to come to the United States.
“Azzat, the father, he read the Yezidi portions of the book for me — I wanted to represent them well. The Vietnamese portions were read by a businessman in our community, Lan, who was a boat person.”
Even now refugees are arriving in my home state with complicated stories surely not that different from Thia’s and Delal’s. What will their legacy be in this new land? What love will their children find? For each of them, I want a true happy ever after. I want them to hold their love in their arms, with this new country’s earth firm beneath their feet, in a garden filled with moonflowers.
at my door leaves
a long shadow. I
put my hand to the
you are scent of apple in
slip of leaf
light-tipping over water
the hollows of me.
the air waits
for the echo of us
to begin again
1. What fictional love story sweeps you off your couch?
2. What is a book you have been wrong about?
3. Share your September pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
A Few Figs from Thistles, Second April, and Renascence and Other Poems, all by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Picture Books and Early Readers
Little Baby Bobby, by Nancy Van Laan, illus. Laura Cornell
Possum Come a-Knockin’, by Nancy Van Laan, illus. George Booth
The Tiny, Tiny Boy and the Big, Big, Cow, by Nancy Van Laan, illus. Marjorie Priceman
Middle Grade and YA
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (Join us Friday, October 8, for Children’s Book Club!)
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai (also poetry, also a refugee story)
Mildred’s Garden, by Laura Boggess
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Compleat Angler, by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton (published 1653 and still in print)
The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Browse more Reading Generously
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
- Children’s Book Club: ‘Coraline’ - October 8, 2021
- Reading Generously: ‘Mildred’s Garden’—A Begin Again Story - October 1, 2021
- By Heart: ‘Somewhere or Other’ + New H.D. Challenge - September 24, 2021