The Locked Garden by Gloria Whelan (published by HarperCollins, June 2, 2009)
The year is 1900. Two years after the death of their mother, twelve-year-old Verna Martin and her six-year-old sister, Carlie, leave their home in the city. They are moving with their father, a psychiatrist, to an asylum in the countryside that is testing out new ideas for the treatment of the mentally ill. Their strict Aunt Maude, who has cared for them since their mother’s death, accompanies them.
Much to Verna’s surprise, the asylum is a lovely place, with trees, flowers, and animals. And the patients aren’t scary at all. One patient is Eleanor, a young woman who, thanks to the care and peaceful setting of the asylum, has improved enough to work. She comes to work at their house, to cook, clean, and help care for the sisters. Verna and Carlie become very close to Eleanor, and this causes Aunt Maude to become very jealous, which results in terrible consequences for Eleanor’s health, leaving Verna to try and fix the situation.
The Locked Garden is a very interesting historical novel for young readers about a topic not much explored in children’s historical fiction - the beginnings of modern mental health treatment. This book is both an interesting look at the subject as well as a touching story about family and friendship. I recommend it to young readers who like historical fiction as well as to readers who have enjoyed other books by the author.