MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Where Flowers Grow takes place in Watsonville, California. It weaves history with family experience in a story that compellingly opens with the aftermath of a whirlwind courtship in which Richard Bankston impulsively has married, and is awaiting the arrival of his new bride, Gina, in California.
In 1953, such quick marriages were relatively rare.
California residents and those familiar with the Bay Area, in particular, will be thrilled about the cultural contrasts between the sophisticated San Francisco and more rural Watsonville, many miles away. Barbara Anne King does a fine job of bringing both the times and regional differences to life, creating a backdrop for the history and drama which unfold to embrace and change Richard and everyone around him.
Of particular note are the cultural observations resulting from unexpected encounters between races that are still recovering from the aftermath of World War II: "fairytales are always in short supply. Take a look around. Most of these people were sent to an internment camp—Poston in the Arizona desert—hot and dusty and crawling with scorpions. Their lives were nothing but misery. Lynn was one of the lucky ones.” Tom and Richard arrived with their plates overflowing. “Besides chicken teriyaki, they have sushi and tempura,” Tom said. “They’re putting on a show. I guess this means Japantown is back.” “What do you mean by Japantown is back?” said Gina. “Before the war, there was a Japantown here. Watsonville was one of the few towns that had one. But with everything the happened during the war, some people didn’t return and Japantown dwindled. But now, it appears to be back.”
As this milieu forces Gina and Richard into new territory and unexpected developments in their marriage, readers receive a social and political whirlwind of change that reaches out to touch the couple's lives and separate them.
As they are introduced to Japanese culture and the flower farm efforts that Sam Yamamoto's family has been involved in, as cultivators and owners of flowers in California for almost one hundred years, the lure and history of the region's flower production begin to grow on Richard.
This farming history and the flower-growing effort receives excellent attention in a book that considers the impact of a new flower farm's efforts, which fits in well with Richard's growing bigger-picture dream of a project that all the boys can get behind. Many details about the flower-growing effort provide realistic insights into farming and social challenges alike as everyone struggles with social and environmental change.
King is also adept at injecting the headlines of the times to place these changes in historical perspective: "In early December, Federal Marshalls arrested Chavez and held him in the Salinas jail. To add to the drama, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, accompanied by Olympic athlete Rafer Johnson, stopped by the jailhouse to visit him, incurring attacks by an anti-union mob. By the end of the month, Chavez was released only to call for more strikes. In March, an agreement between the UFW and the Teamsters giving the UFW the right to organize farmworkers brought the strike to an end."
The fact that readers needn't be familiar with California history or the evolving history of the times lends a special educational quality to Where Flowers Grow. It juxtaposes personal choice and consequence with broader political and social influences and concerns unique to the times and place.
The Cosmos flower referenced in book and title represents love, but it needs to be protected from the wind. As the characters adapt to this changing world, they nurture survival skills, love, and feelings that allow them to be more interactive with their environment and more in touch with their feelings and responsibilities.
Where Flowers Grow is a powerful story that functions on many levels of historical, social, and psychological inspection. It's highly recommended for California and history readers alike—and for those interested in gardening history in general and flower farm evolution in particular.--D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Books