by Deborah Smith

January 2002
ISBN: 0-318-80094-5
Reviewer Graphic Button Little, Brown and Company
Mass Market Paperback

Deborah Smith continues her tradition of giving her loyal readers thought provoking, unusual novels with the publication of Stone Flower Garden.

The story begins twenty-five years ago, when desegregation was new and still uncomfortable in the South. The local marble company’s owner, Swan Hardigree Samples, ruled the small town of Burnt Stand. Her iron rule extended to her own home, running her granddaughter's young life to the point that the child had only one friend, Karen, the little black girl who was the granddaughter of Swan's loyal companion, Matilda. This changes when a new family, the Wades, come to town, and the girl, Darl, claims the eldest son as "hers" to protect him from town bullies. A friendship that comes close to being a romance for the two children begins then, despite Swan's disapproval of associating with commoner folk.

Life continues peacefully for three years, then Swan's black sheep younger sister, Clara shows up with blackmail and trouble in mind. Once she learns that the Wades are in town, nothing can stop her from revealing devastating family secrets, secrets that lead to her own death, with her sister being responsible for it.

Swan had planned to send the Wades away when Clara first proclaimed their dark history, but then suspicion falls on the father for Clara's murder, and rather than go to jail, he forces the sheriff to shoot him. Life falls apart for them all.

Twenty-five years later, the three children have grown up and grown apart, each one haunted by the past. Darl has spent her life working to save the wrongly accused from death row. This has placed her life in danger, and brought a bodyguard, Solo, into her life. Unbeknownst to her, he is Eli, the boy she befriended and loves still. Yet, on some level, she must recognize him, because they begin to fall in love. When Swan and Matilda both suffer serious medical attacks, Darl returns home with Solo. Eli has his own reason for wanting to go back to Burnt Stand. His fragile younger sister has bought the land they once lived upon, hoping to find a way to clear their father's name. At last, the time for all the secrets to come out has arrived, and the question is, can love endure through it all? What exactly does it mean to forgive, and does justice always mean what you think it does?

Vivid characters, a hallmark of Ms. Smith's writing, are to be found here. She accurately portrays a small Southern town and the lines that still exist in some of them today. Every character is drawn so believably, that you might know them. This book touches the heart and raises questions that will linger after the last page.

Reviewed in March 2002 by Amanda.

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