Seventeen-year-old Ivy Erickson has one month, twenty-seven days, four hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds to live. Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been able to see countdown clocks over everyone's heads indicating how long before they will die. She can't do anything about anyone else’s, nor can she do anything about her own, which will hit the zero hour before she even graduates high school. A life cut short is tragic, but Ivy does her best to make the most of it. She struggles emotionally with her deep love for on-again, off-again boyfriend Myers Patripski. She struggles financially, working outside of school to help her mom and her sister. And she struggles to cope with the murder of her best friend, another life she couldn't save. Vanessa Donovan was killed in the woods, and everyone in town believes Ivy had something to do with it. Then more girls start disappearing. Ivy tries to put her own life in order as she pieces together the truth of who ended Vanessa's. To save lives and for her own sanity. The clock is always ticking. And Ivy's only hope is to expose the truth before it runs out completely.
Ivy is a compelling protagonist and really drives the story forward in a surprisingly relatable, yet unpredictable way. For instance, while Ivy faces her own morbidity and that of everyone around her, she also maintains a normal semblance of a life, such as going to school and work, volunteering at a nursing home, performing in a play, and somehow making it to winter formal. She has a good heart, but is flawed, especially when it comes to her ex-boyfriend, Myers Patripski. Somehow her voice is distinctive and realistic, despite the sci-fi element of the novel. On the other hand, I had a very difficult time keeping track of the male characters in this book. Their personalities were not as fully developed from the beginning, which took me out of the story every time I had to stop to recall who they were.
I also found that I had to suspend my disbelief at times in order to accept what was happening. For instance, I could not understand why Vanessa, having gotten the note, “Meet me in Havenger’s Woods,” would actually go there. I know she had been drinking and was upset, but it seemed a little farfetched to me that she would randomly go find a stranger in the middle of the night just because. Ivy’s behavior the night of Vanessa’s death also seemed odd. Perhaps if Sutton would have elaborated more about Ivy’s past and how Ivy knew there was absolutely nothing she could do to save Vanessa, it would have made sense. While Sutton discusses how Ivy tests her own fate, she doesn’t address what Ivy has tried to do to change the fate of those around her. After all, Ivy must have done something if she now has a rule against it. Either way, a bit more exposition would have helped here to answer the question, why?
With that being said, GARDENIA is a wonderfully entertaining and gripping tale that had me on the edge of my seat. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book that I am happy to forgive any inconsistencies. Sutton does a great job of blending genres and it will be exciting to see what she does next.