A novel about grief, OCD, and dirt
The Unfinished Garden is now available in Australia, Germany, and Norway.
Tilly Silverberg dreams of returning to England but can survive in rural North Carolina, provided people and snakes bugger off and leave her alone with her young son. Remorse over a decision she made for her dying husband haunts her but she can deal—if she’s elbows deep in dirt.
When James Nealy speeds into her woodland nursery to praise her gardens—so perfect, so controlled—and to offer her a landscaping job, Tilly says no. James, however, needs Tilly’s help to conquer the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that estranged him from his family. James’s plan? Face his greatest fear: dirt.
Tilly tries to ignore him, until a personal crisis twists remorse into unrelenting guilt and only James understands. As they become allies, Tilly realizes she must confront her own darkest terror: that love will always end in loss.
Together, they discover each one’s fear is the other’s salvation.
Reviews of The Unfinished Garden
"I learned so much about myself from this story--that fear doesn't have to hold me back, but rather, it can move me forward. The Unfinished Garden is a touching and accomplished debut."
Diane Chamberlain, bestselling author of Necessary Lives
"The Unfinished Garden is a mesmerizing tale of fear, loss, and love. Tilly and James are richly drawn and wonderfully flawed characters who embody the contradictions and imperfections that exist in all of us. Barbara Claypole White has created a novel as beautiful and complex, dark and light, sweet and sensuous as Tilly's beloved garden."
- Joanne Rendell, author of The Professors' Wives' Club
"The Unfinished Garden is a tender novel about embracing imperfections, facing fears, and coming to terms with the past."
- Therese Walsh, author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy
"The Unfinished Garden is a beautifully written debut about healing the past and finding the future."
- Laura Spinella, author of Beautiful Disaster
"A complex and beautifully crafted tale of lives interwining through extraordinary people coming to terms with the choices they have made (and some that have been made for them)."
- Traci Foust, author of Nowhere Near Normal: A Memoir of OCD
“Barbara Claypole White gives us a moving story about the challenges of OCD and grief combined with the power of the human spirit to find love in the most unlikely of places.”
- Eye on Romance.
“A fabulous debut novel, The Unfinished Garden easily earns Romance Junkies’ highest rating of five blue ribbons and a recommended read status for its unpredictable originality! So good!”
- Romance Junkies
“Tilly and James are incredible characters and we root for them the entire time.”
Good Girl Gone Redneck
“The Unfinished Garden is a powerful story of friendship and courage in the midst of frightening circumstances… I highly recommend this wonderful love story.”
- Bergers’ Book Reviews
“White...conveys the condition of OCD, and how it creates havoc in one’s life and the lives of loved ones, with style and grace, never underplaying the seriousness of the disorder.”
- Romantic Times
“Filled with fascinating characters and a great deal of love for the natural world, White’s novel explores the untilled regions of the psyche, and we are richer for it.”
Anne Barnhill, The Pilot Newspaper
“Expect tears when reading this story, it will tug at your heartstrings.”
- Lisa’s World of Books
“And if there’s one thing local author Barbara Claypole White does right, it’s creating characters in Tilly and James you want to root for, who make you laugh or even bring tears to your eyes. Of course, there’s more that makes her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, so compelling, but it’s the characters and the emotion she has brought to life that made the book impossible to put down.”
- The News Of Orange County
“The garden is the perfect metaphor for the change, growth potential and obstacles the characters within The Unfinished Garden encounter.”
- My Bookshelf
"The Unfinished Garden is The Secret Garden for adults, particularly those with OCD or who are mourning. Since I am a card carrying member of Club OCD and recently joined the My Mom is Dead T-Shirt Committee, this book recommends itself to me in its entirety. I wish I knew James, and you will probably wish you did too by the end of the book. Shoot, if you just want to read a good book and are as normal as normal be, read The Unfinished Garden!"
The story behind the story for The Unfinished Garden
The Unfinished Garden evolved over a decade. Like my flower beds—I have fifteen, which is far too many—the novel kept growing. And self-seeded pieces of my life appeared everywhere: my mother’s mentally-challenged springer spaniel; my teen years spent wearing a spinal brace; my love affair with the hawks in our forest; my horror at copperhead encounters.
The original story idea came from watching my mother navigate widowhood and thinking, “What if that were me?” I was a stay-at-home mom with no income and no citizenship of the country I’d come to call home. And, like Tilly, I was struggling with regret over decisions I had made while someone I loved—my father—was dying. Tilly has a spunky edge and a sense of humor that speak to me. I always knew she was a devoted mother and that gardening was her therapy. After a summer of interviewing a group of young widows, I had found my heroine.
Finding James, however, was a painful journey that lasted years. My original hero was a grieving dad, but as I sought escape from my young son’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, James showed up. Actually, he barged into my thoughts and, like a good obsession, refused to move. I love James. I loved him from the moment I heard him say, “Me and my fucked-up shadow.” But I also restrained him, refusing to show readers his dark corners. I guess I wasn’t ready to come out of the OCD closet.
After an endless cycle of querying, rejection, and rewriting, I put the manuscript aside, researched and wrote the first draft of another novel, The Gloaming, which would become The In-Between Hour, and threw myself into a nonfiction project. Still, there was James. Waiting. (Man, he’s persistent.) Finally, I let him out of his box; I let him talk about the voice inside his head. I let him be James. And everything clicked into place.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that creates irrational fear in the absence of true threat. To an outsider, OCD fear can seem crazy, maybe even comical, but the terror a person with OCD feels is debilitating and real. James shows the side of OCD I see every day: the empathy and courage that come from fighting fear.
As Tilly says, everyone has fears. Even Indiana Jones was terrified of snakes, and yet…James is not.
For more information on obsessive-compulsive disorder, or to find a list of support groups or psychologists in your area, contact the IOCDF at www.ocfoundation.org
The following UK website is also a useful resource:
To arrange a visit with your book club, in person or via Skype, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reading Group Guide (Spoiler Alert!)
- Do you believe in the healing power of gardening?
- James is an unlikely hero. What do you think draws Tilly to him?
- Do you have a favorite moment, scene, or line in the book?
- What roles do trust and mistrust play in the characters' relationships?
- Why do you think issues of control appear repeatedly throughout the novel?
- Is it reasonable for Tilly to cling to guilt after carrying out her husband's final wishes?
- What role does Isaac play in helping her navigate her feelings?
- What are the parallels between Tilly's guilt and James's fear?
- How does the parent/child relationship impact other relationships in the novel?
- In what ways do you think Sebastian and David have played important but different roles in Tilly's life?
- Finding the balance between closing yourself off and opening your life to others is an important theme of the novel. How do you think the characters achieve this?
- In the final chapter, Tilly says that she needs James. In what ways do you think Tilly and James need each other?
- How do you think Tilly's relationship with James will differ from her marriage to David?
- How has Tilly changed from the beginning of the book to the ending? What events have caused her to change?
- What obstacles, if any, do you see for James and Tilly in the future?
Please download this printer friendly version of the reading group guide The Unfinished Garden.
To learn more about some of the settings in The Unfinished Garden, check out these links:
The Unfinished Garden listening guide:
"Stuck in a Moment" - U2
"Numb" - The Airborne Toxic Event
"Boys Don't Cry" - The Cure
"Hawkmoon 269" - U2
"My English Rose" - The Jam
"Numb" - Pet Shop Boys
"Only Tears" - OMD
"Did You See Me Coming" - Pet Shop Boys
"Innocence" - The Airborne Toxic Event
"A Letter to Georgia" - The Airborne Toxic Event
"Indefinite Leave to Remain" - Pet Shop Boys
"I Wanna be Loved" - Elvis Costello
"I Wanna" - The All-American Rejects
"Another Heart Calls" - The All-American Rejects
"Starlight" - Muse
"Think I Need It Too" - Echo & the Bunnymen