The Gardener, by S.A. Bodeen; Feiwel & Friends, 2010.
S.A. Bodeen is also known as Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and has written several children's books, primarily about characters living in modern Africa, in addition to two young adult sci-fi novels. The Gardener is her second YA sci-fi novel.
The Gardener is a quick read with a fast-paced plot and interesting characters. As soon as I finished it, I took it to school and loaned it to one of my male 6th grade students. Bodeen does an excellent job of presenting a young man who is working to discover who he is, both literally and in a psychological sense. I was not surprised to learn it is a 2011 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
The premise of The Gardener centers around a research company that is attempting to locate an alternative food source for human beings. The reduction in food production because of industrialization and the destruction of the environment motivates scientists to make sacrifices that are, at best, distasteful, and at worst, murderous. The author does not take a definite position on the right/wrong side of the scientific debate presented, but allows the reader to think: What IF we run out of food? Would I be willing to make sacrfices for the greater good?
Classroom Application Ideas
1) Use The Gardener as a starting point for a roundtable or Paideia style class discussion about the "green" movement. Augment the novel with news articles about global warming. You may want to include selections from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring or other important environmental works.
2) Ask students to write a diary entry from the perspective of one of the parents of the children being used in the experiment. How did they make the decision to give up their children? What were they thinking?
3) Use this novel as a quick-read companion for Frankenstein. How are Victor Frankenstein and "The Gardener" similar and different-- especially when one considers their motivations, techniques, and the consequences of their actions.