The China Garden, by Liz Berry (1996, Harper Collins, YA, 284pp), is a book that I would have utterly adored if I had read it as a teenager. I went looking for it after I read about it in one of the "What a Girl Wants" posts at Chasing Ray, where Melissa Wyatt said "For girls who are looking for more supernatural romance, I highly recommend The China Garden by Liz Berry. A strong female protagonist who finds her own way to accept a seemingly inescapable destiny, a real live human boy for her to love, an intricate and beautiful mystery based in British folklore and enough steam to set off plenty of palpitations."
17 year-old Claire is appalled when she finds out that her mother proposes to abandon London for the remote country village where she was from, which Claire has never visited. But almost against her will, Claire finds herself saying, "I'm coming to Ravensmere with you."
Claire's mother, a nurse, is going to be looking after the old man who owns the vast Ravensmere estate, a most marvellous place of gardens and treasures. When they arrive, Claire becomes more and more disturbed by the way all the villagers seem to recognize her. As she explores Ravensemere, she begins to realize that she is part of an old and magical story of an ancient Benison guarded by two families for millenia.
Claire is the descendant of one of these families, and Mark, arrogant, dangerous, and troubled, is the descendant of the other...and now the power of Ravensmere has tied their fates together.
I would have loved this book so much back when I was young for its wonderful gardens (the China Garden that gives the book its title is particularly magical--it's been locked for years, and Claire must bring it back to life), its weaving of old legends into the present, and all the treasures of the past that are described in loving detail.
And I probably would have found young Mark incredibly attractive. I bet a lot of young teenage girls would find Mark incredibly attractive.
But sadly, as an adult, I wasn't able to tolerate Mark at all. The first time we meet him, he essentially kidnaps Claire, when he and his gang of toughs force her onto the back of his motorcycle...and although Claire, who is filled with Young Love/Lust, gets over this, I never did.
Oh well. The gardens, though, are utterly to die for.