Thank you to Gallery Books for providing me with an egalley copy of the book to review.
I debated whether or not to finish this book, and about 40% in I kept saying I’ll read just one more chapter and if I don’t like it I’ll give up. I got to 60% until I finally decided to stick to this decision.
“White Gardenia” is a book that starts off on a very strong note, one that gave me high hopes for what was ahead. The Anya we meet in the beginning is a girl with personality and the obvious existence of a backbone. The writing is equally mesmerizing and exotic, complementing the protagonist wonderfully. But as I continued reading, Anya began to sink into the background, which in turn became the more emphasized factor of the book. Her stay in Shanghai was by far my favourite part, and I would say also the strongest part of the book both in terms of character development and creating an atmosphere that transported the reader to Asia. Afterwards, the story wen somewhat downhill for me in a way I didn’t expect and was disappointed to see. I really was rooting for Anya, for her to find happiness she deserved and overcome her challenges. Instead more and more characters are introduced in what resembles a feeble attempt to rescue the drowning Anya who is losing to the setting of the novel, sinking fast. It grew difficult to keep track of the characters as they also became less and less fleshed out, and the setting ultimately won.
It’s difficult to point out the “point” of the story as well. As a survivor story it wasn’t very convincing as Anya loses some of the spark with each consecutive chapter. It also didn’t do much to set itself apart from other WW2 fiction besides the original journey in terms of destination that the characters take. Besides that, Anya dropped to the level of a regular refugee who lost that initial liveliness she had in her within the first several chapters, and that was the ultimate disappointment. There wasn’t incentive to continue reading when the protagonist doesn’t make you feel empathetic and the story feels like it isn’t going anywhere.
Perhaps there’s something I missed, or it’s my own expectations that should be to blame. But “White Gardenia” started off on a strong note and went downhill from that, making me losing my interest until it didn’t seem purposeful to continue. The story was missing that spark of life, whatever that may have been in this case. Either way it wasn’t my cup of tea, or coffee.