She never knew her father the farmer. But in Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks, Kim is determined to do something to connect with him, though he died before she was born in far-off Vietnam. Her mother and sisters remember him with incense and candles on the anniversary of his death. However, that’s not enough for Kim. She has something else in mind even though the prospect of carrying it through is unnerving. The Cleveland neighborhood her family can afford to live in is scary. But outside the apartment building is vacant lot. Well, it’s not exactly vacant. It’s filled with junk—an old couch, tires, all kinds of trash—a real haven for rats. But it’s ground that’s not spoken for. And Kim has a plan.
What begins with a young girl daring to reclaim a small patch of earth for a good purpose takes on a much larger meaning in the lives of those who live in her neighborhood. Everybody, it seems, has a hole in his heart that the blossoming garden can fill. If this topic—the growing and keeping of a community garden—had been done as a picture book, a reader could have counted on glowing faces, lyrical words, and a totally upbeat message.
But this short novel is written for young adults, and, while it’s plenty lyrical, it doesn’t skirt the work required to bring the garden patches to fruition or the pain when things go wrong, either by accident, cruelty, or indifference. Yet, as each person dares to stake out a space despite the hardships, he learns to get past the blows dealt in his life—abuse, abandonment, grief, or perhaps plain-out loneliness—to connect to the garden and to each other.
Told in thirteen short chapters from thirteen very different points of view, Seedfolks is a thoughtful choice for readers who want to contemplate how each person, though seemingly isolated by life’s difficulties, is indeed a part of the gentle and renewing cycle of sunlight and rain and the seasons.