Imagine putting The Lovely Bones, Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close, and the Saw movie franchise into a blender, and you’d have the psychologically dense, historically aware, yet creepy texture of SATAN’S GARDEN. With alternating narrators, the book is a perpetually shifting yet engaging chronicle of how abduction, violence, and secrecy affect not only the direct victims, but their larger community from 2000 to 2006. Although Dani must endure the horrors of captivity, Keely’s life is hardly an easy one as she confronts a mysterious communal clique known as “The Underground.” Keely’s refusal to proclaim her sister dead, even though she has no evidence of her being alive, is emotionally wrenching. Will Keely convince the authorities to follow-up on her painstakingly researched leads? Will Dani manage to survive the mental and physical torture of her captor long enough to breathe free air again?
The tension inherent in both of these situations is intensified by the strong cast of supporting characters and unusual plot twists. Without ruining any surprises, it’s safe to say that the narrative, while chronological, is hardly a predictable one. Characters fight, party, and discover ways of maintaining their sanity in inherently insane conditions. As a pre-teen, Keely demonstrates exceptional powers of observation. On hearing an Amber alert has been issued for her sister, she asks her father who Amber is. Her father gives a silly answer; but Keely is not fooled. “I should have known he was lying to me because things don’t get named after people unless they are dead.”
The familial dynamics at the core of the narrative are nuanced enough to be believable, yet fully realized enough to be universally relatable. Kit Lyman has a natural flair for storytelling and an intuitive understanding of a close, sisterly relationship.
A successfully paced abduction thriller with unexpectedly deep emotional resonance, SATAN’S GARDEN dishes out equal parts surprise and sorrow.
Reviewed by Julia Lai for IndieReader.