Now that I’ve put together my statistics, it’s time to get back to reviewing some of my favorite books of last year that weren’t lucky enough to be in the few I managed to write up right away. I was excited enough about the reviews for this book to buy it with one of our audiobook credits rather than waiting months for a hold to come through, and I don’t buy books from previously unknown-to-me authors often.
A Half-Built Garden
by Ruthanna Emrys
Read by Kate Handford
Macmillan Audio/Tor, 2022
Listened to purchased audiobook.
Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
As the story opens in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens is disturbed from a night of not sleeping well by an alarm announcing pollution in the bay near her. As Judy’s a water specialist for the local Chesapeake Watershed of the Dandelion Network – working to restore the Earth to health – she and her wife Carol, along with their nursing baby Dorrie call a van to take them to the site. But what awaits them is not a faulty sensor, but a spaceship with members of two symbiotic species. Their captain, Cytosine, introduces her babies Chlorophyll and Diamond to Dorrie, and says they’ve come to rescue humans from Earth, as they can tell that it will soon become uninhabitable.
From here, more and more strands are introduced into the braid of the story. There’s the part where Cytosine only wants to talk to Judy rather than the Chesapeake’s diplomatic expert because only mothers with babies are important enough to talk to. NASA quickly finds an expert on maternity leave to send in to represent them, while the corporations, exiled to man-made islands off Australia, send in their own representatives. There are of course many different attitudes to conservation and space travel, but also a strong thread of looking at different possibilities around gender expression, as each culture in the book has their own very different customs. Relationships are built, strained, examined. All of this considering the possibility of leaving Earth is grounded – literally – in the rhythms of Judy and Carol’s household’s garden and the Jewish year, as well as the realities of life with babies. Even though the circumstances are dire, it’s filled with love and hope. I couldn’t stop talking about it for at least a month afterwards (which is saying something as Cybils season started immediately afterwards), and it was so rich that I’m sure I’ll go back to it again.
This could pair well with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and the 2016 movie Arrival.
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