The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

By Margaret Dilloway

(Penguin, $25.95, 368 pages)

Who is this author?

Margaret Dilloway lives in San Diego, California (where she grew up), with her husband, a former Army Ranger whom she calls Cadillac in her blog, and their three young children. Her mother is Japanese; her father is an American of Irish-Welsh heritage. Her blog, American Housewife – Embracing the Chaos, can be found at She has a degree in studio art and has been a journalist and a mystery shopper. “Roses” is her second novel.

What is this book about?

Gal (short for Galilee) Garner is only 36, but her kidneys are shot and she’s already had two failed transplants. While she hopes for another, she must carefully divide her time between teaching biology at a private Catholic high school and undergoing dialysis. Her real passion is breeding and growing Hulthemia roses in her garden, experimenting with cross-pollination and hoping to create a new variety of such beauty that it could win Queen of Show at a major competition and be marketed. Then, into this highly controlled and compartmented life comes the unexpected: her teenage niece, Riley, child of Gal’s estranged sister, shows up in need of a place to live while her mother is out of the country. It is an event that will profoundly change both of their lives.

Why you’ll like it:

This is a tale of how love can redeem us. Gal’s life, by her choice, is like a tightly closed flower surrounded by formidable thorns; Riley’s surprise appearance forces it to bloom. It is a touching tale about emotional needs, and as a bonus Dilloway folds in a lot of fascinating information about breeding roses.

Here is some of what Dilloway says on her blog about her beginnings as a writer, which gives you a good idea of her style:

“I wrote a series called MR FLAGS when I was in 3rd grade. It was about a tap dancing man who lived in a tree. His wife’s name was Maurice, because I thought it was too pretty to be a girl’s name. This was the first book I got props for, because my teacher read it aloud to the class when I was out of the room and my brother doubled over laughing when he read them. It was my first time writing for an audience.”

 “I wrote my first full-length novel when I was in 8th grade. It was called THE LIST and was about three friends and the boys they liked. The girls used code names for the boys in various categories, including dogs, food, and colors, so no matter what the topic of conversation was, they could talk about the boys.  I wrote it like a serial for my friends, who of course it was based upon.  It was my most productive summer ever.  My English teacher’s TA suggested improvements, which I ignored but should not have.”

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “The title is apt to describe Galilee Garner, the prickly protagonist of Dilloway’s second novel (after “How to Be an American Housewife”). “Gal” has been on dialysis since she was diagnosed with kidney disease as a child and, by her own choosing, has distanced herself from others…. Gal’s autonomy is challenged when her teenage niece Riley arrives unannounced when Riley’s flighty mom, Gal’s sister, goes to Hong Kong on business. Having Riley around slowly softens Gal, drawing her focus away from herself. There’s no mystery that Dilloway’s metaphor, the care needed to keep a rose thriving, is meant to evoke the needs of a child, a friendship, or someone suffering a chronic illness…”

“Galilee Garner is a no-nonsense 36-year-old biology teacher and rose enthusiast… thorny, difficult Gal functions well within this regimented structure until her estranged 15-year-old niece enters her life. Needy Riley… has lived an unstructured life. So Gal’s ordered existence is turned topsy-turvy as she is forced to become a substitute parent. VERDICT Believable situations with well-drawn characters make this novel as lovely as the roses Gal tends. Dilloway’s second novel (after her acclaimed and decidedly different debut, “How To Be an American Housewife”) is a captivating study of how love and understanding nurture our lives. Engaging, enlightening, thoughtful, this is a winner,” says Library Journal.

Kirkus Reviews

The life of a high school biology teacher parallels her cultivation of roses in Dilloway’s exquisitely written novel about love and redemption. Thirty-six-year-old Galilee Garner suffers from kidney failure…She is insular, obstinate and regimented in her private life, and these attributes have spilled over into her professional life, making her unpopular with many students and their parents. Gal sets the bar high and refuses to cut anyone, including herself, any slack, and she has trouble viewing issues from anyone else’s perspective. But as Riley helps Gal with her roses and they begin to form a bond, she changes in slow but subtle ways. No longer as inflexible as she once was, even when she discovers a disturbing secret about her students, Gal reaches out to a fellow dialysis patient, a new colleague at school and her older sister. A witty and compassionate lesson about the importance of empathy, friendship and family,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“A richly textured diversion from standard treatments of family angst, Dilloway’s new novel expresses a graceful understanding of the virtues of mercy,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

“The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns” is planted on the new books shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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