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The Girls in the Garden

A Novel

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“A page-turner for readers who like beach reads on the dark side” (People), this unputdownable domestic thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone asks the question: just how much do you trust your neighbors?

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play twist together in this unforgettable novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.

The Girls in the Garden 1

Dear Daddy,

We moved into the new flat this weekend. It’s nice. It’s on a quiet street with little houses. You walk into a narrow hallway and if you turn right there are two bedrooms. I have to share with Grace but I really don’t mind. You know I never liked sleeping on my own in the old house anyway. Not really. Do you remember? I don’t really know how much you remember about things from before. I don’t know if you’ve lost all your memories or if you’re just the same except with all the other problems.

Anyway, our room is really cute. We put our beds in an L shape so that our feet point together and our heads are furthest apart and I can see Grace when I’m in bed. It’s like this:

It’s weird how I’m eleven and I should be wanting my own room and I just really don’t. Remember how I used to say I wish we lived in a caravan? So we could be all snug together? Well, this is a bit like that, I suppose. Then Mum’s room is next door to ours. It’s quite small but she’s got a little shower room attached, which is nice for her. Then on the other side of the hallway there’s a kitchen which is square with white units with silver handles and white tiles and Mum says it looks like an operating theater. It kind of does. Well, it’s totally different to our old kitchen, that’s for sure. Do you remember our old kitchen? Do you remember those crazy tiles around the sink with the bits of fruit on them? Grapes and stuff? I sort of miss those now.

So the kitchen has a breakfast bar, which is good, I like breakfast bars, and a window that looks over the backyard. And next door is a tiny living room. It’s all painted white with that kind of shiny wood flooring that’s not really wood and whoever lived here before must have worn very sharp heels because it’s full of little dents, like a Ryvita. There’s a door in the living room that takes you into the backyard. It’s teeny-weeny. Just big enough for a little table and some chairs. And maybe it’s just because it’s winter but it does smell a bit damp out there and there’s lots of moss all over the walls.

And it has a little wooden gate and when you go through the gate there’s a totally massive private park. We were not expecting it. Mum didn’t even tell us about it before. I was just thinking what a cute little flat it was and then suddenly it’s like Narnia, there’s all these tall trees and pathways and a lawn that takes you up to all these big white houses with windows that are as tall as two men and you can see the chandeliers and the big splashy paintings on the walls. At night when you look up the hill and the houses have all their lights on it’s so pretty. And in the park itself there are all these pathways and little tucked-away places. A secret garden which is hidden inside an old wall covered with ivy, like the one in the book. A rose garden which has bowers all the way around and benches in the middle. And then there’s a playground too. It’s not particularly amazing, just some swings and a clonky old roundabout and one of those sad animals on a spring. But still, it’s cool.

This is what the park looks like.

Mum says I can’t tell you the name of the park, or where it is. I totally don’t know why. But it is still in London. Just a different part to where we lived.

So, all in all I quite like it here. Which canNOT be said for Grace. She hates it. She hates sharing a room with me, she hates the tiny rooms and the narrow hallway and the fact there’s nowhere to put anything. And she hates our new school. (I can tell you it’s a girls’ school and there are two baby goats and a Vietnamese potbellied pig in the playground. But I can’t tell you what it’s called. I’m really sorry.) Anyway, she hates it. I don’t really know why. I really like it. And also she hates the communal park. She says it’s weird and scary, probably full of murderers. I don’t think so. I think it looks interesting. Kind of mysterious.

I have to go now. Mum says she doesn’t know if they’ll give you any letters or even if you’d be able to read them anyway. But I always told you everything, Dad, and I don’t want to stop now.

Love you. Get better!

Your Pip (squeak) xxxxxxx

“Look,” said Adele, standing in the tall window of her living room, her arms folded across her stomach. “More new people.”

She was watching a young woman with a soft helmet of pale blond hair wearing an oversized parka with a huge fur-trimmed collar that looked as though it had eaten her. She was walking along the perimeter of the Secret Garden, followed by two biggish girls, Adele couldn’t really gauge their age, but she thought roughly eleven, twelve, thirteen, that kind of area. The girls had matching heads of thick dark curls and were wearing similar-looking parkas to—she assumed—their mother. They were tall and solid, almost, Adele couldn’t help herself from thinking, verging on the overweight. But hard to tell in the winter coats.

Leo joined her at the window. “Oh,” he said, “them. I saw them moving in a few days ago.”


“The terrace,” he said, “about halfway down.”

Virginia Park was formed in the space between a long row of small, flat-fronted Georgian cottages on Virginia Terrace and a majestic half-moon of stucco-fronted mansions on Virginia Crescent, with a large Victorian apartment block at either end.

Adele had lived on Virginia Crescent for almost twenty years. She’d moved into Leo’s flat when she was twenty-one, straight from a cramped flat-share on Stroud Green Road. She had been immediately overwhelmed by the high ceilings and the faded grandeur: the foxed mirrors and threadbare sofas, old velvet shredded by the claws of a dozen long-dead cats; the heavy floor-length curtains patterned with sun-bleached palm fronds and birds of paradise; the walls of books and the grand piano covered with a fringed chenille throw. They’d long since taken out the opulent seventies-style bathroom suite with its golden bird-shaped taps and green porcelain sanitary-ware. They’d ripped out the expensive, claret-red carpets and taken down the curtains so heavy they’d needed two people to take the weight. Leo’s mother had died twelve years ago and two years later his father had moved to some landlocked African state to marry a woman half his age. She and Leo bought out his two brothers and room by room they’d made the flat their own.

Adele felt as much a part of the park community as her husband, who had grown up on these lawns. She had seen babies become adults. She had seen a hundred families come and go. She had had dozens of other people’s children in and out of her home. The park became a mystery during these winter months: neighbors becoming shadows glimpsed through windows, their children growing taller and taller behind closed doors, people moving out, people moving in, and people occasionally dying. And it wasn’t until the onset of spring, until the days grew longer and the sun shone warmer, that the secrets of the winter were revealed.

She looked again at the new arrivals. Gorgeous girls, tall and big-boned, both of them, with square-jawed faces like warrior queens. And then she turned her gaze to their elfin, worried-looking mother. “Was there a man?” she asked Leo. “When they moved in?”

“Not that I noticed,” he said.

She nodded.

She wanted to wander out there now, accidentally cross paths, introduce herself, make sure they realized that there was more to the park than it might appear on a dank January afternoon such as this. She wanted to impart some sense of the way the park opened like a blossom during the summer months: back doors left open; children running barefoot in the warm dark of night; the red glow of tin-can barbecues for two in hidden corners; the playground full of young mothers and toddlers; the pop and thwack of Ping-Pong balls on the table wheeled out by the French family along the way; cats stretched out in puddles of sunshine; striped shadows patterning the lawn through fronds of weeping willows.

But right now that was all a long way off. Right now it was January and in an hour or so it would be getting dark, lights switched on, curtains pulled shut, everyone sealed up and internalized. The park itself was dark and shabby: lines of bare-branched trees, dead-faced backs of houses, pale graveled paths covered in the last of autumn’s leaves, an air of desolation, the melancholic whistle of wind through leafless tendrils of weeping willows, cats sitting listlessly on walls.

“I wonder where those girls go to school,” she muttered mainly to herself. The girls’ school up by the heath, maybe? Or maybe even the hothouse place on the other side of the main road? She tried to work out whether they had money or not. You couldn’t assume anything in this community. Half these houses were owned by a charitable trust and the big apartment blocks at either end were affordable housing for service workers. There was even a halfway house on the terrace, home to an endless succession of recently released female offenders and their children, its backyard cemented over and sprouting weeds, with a solitary never-used plastic rocking dog.

There was no single type of person who lived here. No neat social demographic catchment. Everyone lived here. TV presenters, taxi drivers, artists, teachers, drug addicts. That was the joy of it.

“You’re starting to look a bit creepy there, Del.”

She jumped slightly.

“Those girls will be going: ‘Mum, have you seen that weird woman over there who keeps staring at us?’?”

Adele turned and smiled at Leo. “They can’t see me,” she said, “not in this light.”

“Well, that makes it even worse! ‘Mum, there’s a ghostly shape in that window over there. I don’t like it!’?”


Adele turned one last time, before moving away from the window.
This reading group guide for The Girls in the Garden includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When the family home of Clare and her two daughters, Grace and Pip, is burnt to the ground, an apartment on a picturesque communal garden square looks like the perfect opportunity for all of them to forge a new life. Clare befriends stay-at-home mother Adele and her charming husband, Leo, and the girls begin spending time with a clique of neighborhood children. Everyone seems very welcoming and friendly to the newcomers. That is, until a festive neighborhood party takes a turn for the violent, and preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. Who in this close-knit community can they really trust?

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Who did you first suspect of attacking Grace? Did your suspicions change over the course of the book? Were there clues that pointed you toward the perpetrator? What were some of the red herrings that misdirected your attention?

2. Adele has a very lenient, alternative parenting style, homeschooling and preferring to let her children make their own choices, whatever they are. She repeatedly suggests that she feels judged by others for her lifestyle. How did you feel about how she is raising her children? Were there points in the book you felt supportive or critical of her maternal choices?

3. The police suggest that Grace is “mature for her age” (page 206). Do you agree that Grace is (or is acting) more mature than her age? If so, how? How do Grace’s or Pip’s experiences compare with your own experience of being twelve and thirteen?

4. A major issue in this book is that of growing up. What growth do you see in Pip from the beginning to the end of The Girls in the Garden? Compare and contrast Pip’s development with the ways in which Grace matures.

5. Do you think Clare made the right decision in keeping Pip and Grace’s father’s release from the hospital a secret? Why or why not?

6. Adele asserts that “with parenting there’s a long game and a short game. The aim of the short game is to make your children bearable to live with. Easy to transport. Well behaved in public place . . . But the aim of the long game is to produce a good human being” (page 150). Do you agree with her belief that you can “skip” the short game? Is there a middle ground between her viewpoint and Gordon’s discipline-focused approach?

7. What draws Clare to Leo? Is her attraction to him based more on her own circumstances or something about him?

8. Why do you think Lisa Jewell wrote primarily from Pip, Clare, and Adele’s perspectives? What do these narrators have in common? What is unique about their different standpoints, and how does this affect the story?

9. Did you relate to any of the girls or parents more than the others? In what ways?

10. Do you think you would enjoy living in a home with a communal garden like the one described? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks?

11. What drives Catkin and Fern to follow Tyler’s lead? What do you think were their motivations for taking the actions they took?

12. Why does Adele ultimately look after Tyler? Are her motives purely selfless?

13. Do you think Adele does the right thing by keeping quiet after she discovers what happened to Grace? What would you have done in her position?

14. All of the girls go through both traumatic and formative experiences during the course of the book. What do you think the various girls will be like when they are grown up?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. We are given only a limited window into Tyler and Grace’s points of view on the day of Virginia Park’s annual summer party. As a group, choose an earlier scene to write in either Grace or Tyler’s voice. Share and discuss your creative pieces with your book club.

2. Pip and Grace are both significantly affected by their father’s struggle with schizophrenia. As a group, try reading another novel which depicts the impact of parental mental illness, such as Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany.

3. Watch the film Thirteen (directed by Catherine Hardwicke). Discuss how the film portrays the turning point of becoming a teenager. What ideas from The Girls in the Garden are echoed in the film? How does the role of the parents compare between the film and The Girls?

4. Check out more of Lisa Jewell’s books, such as The Third Wife and The House We Grew Up In. To find out more about Lisa, visit, or follow her on twitter @lisajewelluk.
Photograph (c) Andrew Whitton

Lisa Jewell is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels, including The Family Upstairs and Then She Was Gone, as well as Invisible Girl and Watching You. Her novels have sold over 5 million copies internationally, and her work has also been translated into twenty-nine languages. Connect with her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK, on Instagram @LisaJewellUK, and on Facebook @LisaJewellOfficial.

Praise for The Girls in the Garden:

“Lisa Jewell’s characters are so real that I finish every book half-expecting to bump into one of them. Modern, complex, intuitive, she just goes from strength to strength.”

– Jojo Moyes, author of After You

“Jewell expertly builds suspense by piling up domestic misunderstandings and more plot twists than an SVU episode. It’s a page-turner for readers who like beach reads on the dark side.”

– People

“Full of suspense yet emotionally grounded…Fans of Liane Moriarty, Paula Hawkins, and Carla Buckley will adore this peek inside a gated community that truly takes care of its own, no matter the consequences.”

– Booklist (starred review)

“Rich characterization and intricate plot development are combined with mid-chapter cliffhangers that cut from one character’s point of view to the next, resulting in a riveting pace. Vivid descriptions of the bucolic park contrast with the evil lurking around the themes of teenage sexuality, perversion, peer pressure, and the desire for a complete family. Jewell adeptly creates a pervasive atmosphere of unease in this well-spun narrative.”

– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

One of New York Post’s “Buzziest Books to Bring to the Beach” 

“Jewell expertly mines the relationships of her compelling, multilayered characters for a perfect pack-for-vacation read.”

– Fort-Worth Star Telegram

“Jewell crafts another page-turner that keeps the suspense flowing…[and] sharply evades the truth while bouncing the story among multiple characters’ perspectives. Recommended for lovers of mysteries built on the complexities of family and the dismantling of the idea that being part of a community keeps us safe.”

– Library Journal

“An intoxicating, spellbinding read that will make readers entranced with Lisa Jewell’s wicked and gorgeous prose…raw, intense, gritty, dark and suspenseful. If you are looking for a looking for a psychological thriller that will unfold secrets and truths in a shocking manner, this book is for you.”

– Manhattan Book Review

“Faithful to the thriller genre, Jewell makes liberal use of red herrings and plot twists… The answer to the whodunit is a sly – and satisfying – surprise.”

– New York Times Book Review

"The writing is cause for pleasant pause."

– Seattle Times

“An engaging and atmospheric read, Lisa beautifully conjures up the half-child half-adult lives of young teenagers.”

– Jane Fallon, author of Skeletons

“Oh but I loved this book – a magical garden right in the center of the city, a long, hot summer simmering away, a group of young teens, lurching between boredom and passion and ripe for their lives to start. And at its center a dark and disturbing mystery that keeps you turning the pages long into the night. Lisa Jewell is the most compassionate storyteller. She writes with such lightness of touch, yet her books pack a powerful punch. A stunning, beautiful, mesmerizing book that everyone will be reading this summer.”

– Tamar Cohen, author of The Mistress's Revenge

“Lisa creates beguiling characters, which dazzle from the page. This is a terrific suspense story told with that brooding promise of danger that taunts us to read on, to chase the elusive truth at the heart of the book.”

– Rachel Hore, author of The House on Bellevue Gardens

“Jewell does a beautiful job of creating large companies of detailed and believable characters in her novels. Some are likable, some are not, and Jewell carefully explores what makes each of them tick, from the unstable to the overachievers to those in search of love... a delicate exploration of teenage love and rivalry, mental illness and how far people will go to protect those they care about. Fans of Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes will love The Girls in the Garden, as will anyone who remembers the angst and ecstasy of being a teenager.”

– Shelf Awareness

"Jewell offers an intriguing premise and characters…[and] creates a story ripe with anticipation and emotion."

– Kirkus Reviews

“Another winner. Beautiful writing, believable characters, a pacy narrative and dark secrets combine to make this a gripping read.”

– London Daily Mail

More books from this author: Lisa Jewell