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Table of Contents
About The Book
Hailed by Newbery winner Kelly Barnhill as “stunning, moving, and marvelously strange,” this tale of a young girl who stumbles into a magical realm ruled by a wicked witch is a haunting and ultimately uplifting middle grade novel about grief, family, and decades-old magic.
Still grieving the loss of her mother, Eden visits Safina Island, her ancestral home, as a healing balm. But when she discovers an old sketchbook that belonged to her mother, she’s haunted by the images she sees drawn there. A creepy mansion covered with roots and leaves. A monstrous dog with dagger-sharp teeth. And a tall woman with wind-blown hair and long, sharp nails who is as beautiful as she is terrifying.
Days later, exploring the island alone, Eden follows a black cat through a rift in the bright day. She stumbles into Everdark, a parallel world where the sun never rises, where spirits linger between death and the afterlife, and where everything from her mother’s drawings is all too real—especially the Witch of Everdark, who wants to make Eden her eternal daughter.
Can Eden find a way to defeat the witch’s magic? Or will she remain trapped in Everdark forever?
Eden slid her finger on the map to the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. She stared at the sea islands off the coast of Georgia. The largest island was out farther than the rest, an isolated mass. This was Safina Island, her mother’s birthplace.
Her father had bought the map at a North Carolina rest stop and designated her as the navigator instead of using the app on his phone. It was an opportunity for Eden to learn the geography of intersecting routes and identify points of interest.
On their road trip, they ate junk food from vending machines and drank too much soda. They sang songs and laughed at their off-key melodies. It could have been easy to pretend that it had always been just the two of them, but a weight pressed heavy on Eden’s chest like a block of ice. The cold truth of her mother’s death.
She had endured the first days of shock with denial. Then a bitter acceptance when the house stopped being full of strangers offering their condolences with dishes wrapped in foil. During this time her father had treated Eden like a glass flower, a fragile girl who could break at the slightest touch. But when the record heat of the summer turned into the chill of winter snow, Eden’s father slowly transferred his energy back into his work. A professor of evolutionary biology, he was teaching a full course load for the semester. Dr. Langston Leopold was keeping himself very busy.
Today he was dressed similarly to Eden in a graphic tee and jeans—much different from his usual uniform of oxford shirt and khaki pants. But he still wore his tortoiseshell glasses that complemented his brown skin.
“Saw a sign for a diner a few miles back,” he said. “Should be coming up soon.”
They were traveling the local highway through the coastal town of Marien, Georgia. The trees were different from the ones in Maryland. The pines had skinny trunks, and wide oaks dripped with Spanish moss. Palmettos clustered together as if sharing secrets. Eden hadn’t seen any of the red clay that she had read about online. Instead the soil was sandy brown as if the beach had invaded the mainland.
“Do you think this place will have fried green tomatoes?” Eden asked.
“I’ll bet they do.” Dr. Leopold chuckled, but then his face turned solemn. “You still feeling okay about this trip? It’s not too much, is it?”
A knot formed in Eden’s stomach. Those words again: too much.
They had lost the same person and been through the same journey together. Couldn’t he understand this was her chance to meet her mother’s family? Eden couldn’t explain how a place she had never visited could feel so much like home. How could she describe that kind of yearning to her father? Nothing could ever be too much for Eden. Not even the universe could fill the empty space her mother had left.
“Remember, you have to tell me.” Dr. Leopold stumbled in her silence. “If you’re not okay, you have to let me know.”
He was treating Eden like a glass flower again, so different from her mother, who always trusted that she had the strength to handle things. To bend but not break to whatever the world gave her. Strong enough not to shatter into tiny shards.
“Dad, this is my family,” Eden finally said. “This is my chance to finally meet them.”
Dr. Leopold ran his hand over his cropped curls, a nervous tic. “I just don’t want this visit to make you sad.”
“I’m already sad,” Eden answered.
“I know,” her father stated quietly.
They were still in grief counseling. It had been good for both of them, although difficult. Eden had spent the first session watching her father weep. It was in a recent session that the decision had been made to visit Safina Island as a healing balm. Dr. Leopold was reluctant about the idea at first, but when Eden persisted, he finally agreed.
Her mother’s childhood on the island was murky. Eden knew Safina Island was where her enslaved ancestors had cultivated cotton and sugar cane. It was these ancestors who’d stayed on the island during the Civil War when their enslavers had fled. When the federal government had granted them land after the war, they made the island their home. When the former enslavers returned, the federal government stripped the free people of their granted land. But her mother’s family had been able to purchase the entire north side of Safina Island.
The Gardener family had stayed. They’d stayed through famine and hurricanes. They’d stayed through failed attempts of golf courses and luxury hotels. The Gardener family persevered and had lived on their land for over two centuries.
Every spring her mother’s family held a celebration on Safina Island. Eden knew about these anniversaries of the Gardener land purchase from the invitations in pale blue envelopes sent by her great-aunt. The same one who also sent Eden birthday cards every year with a pressed island flower and a crisp twenty-dollar bill. Her mother had never wanted to attend these celebrations, so Eden had never been given a chance to visit Safina Island.
Now she was going to meet her mother’s family and learn all the things that were blurred in her history.
Her mother had been twelve years old when she left the island of her ancestors. The same age Eden was now. More than anything, she wanted to know why her mother never wanted to return to her birthplace.
Elvira’s Diner was tucked off a dusty side road. A few cars were parked in the small lot. Most of them had Georgia plates with faded peach decals. Eden decided this was a place to eat for the coastal town’s locals.
When they entered the diner, the mostly brown faces of the patrons turned to gawk at them, but after a few awkward seconds, they returned to their conversations and food.
An older light-skinned woman in a pink apron greeted them. “Y’all want a table?”
“That would be great,” Eden’s father said.
The waitress scanned the parking lot. “It’s just y’all two?”
Dr. Leopold put his arm around Eden’s shoulder like a protective shield. “Yes, it’s just me and my daughter.”
The waitress led them to a leather booth with deeply cracked seats sealed with red masking tape. Eden slid in and quickly grabbed a menu.
“I’m going to find the restroom. Be back,” her father said.
Eden waited until he was gone before she opened her macramé bag. She pulled out her phone and called her best friend. Natalie answered immediately.
“Are you there yet?” she asked.
“Almost. We’re at a diner now. I don’t think it’s far from the dock.”
“Is your dad still acting weird?” Natalie asked.
“Yep,” Eden answered.
Hearing Natalie’s voice instantly calmed her. Natalie had been Eden’s best friend since her first day at Cathedral, the Maryland private school they both attended. They quickly became chosen sisters. The Chen household was a second home to Eden. At Lunar New Year, she got her own red envelope. She would help Natalie’s father put decadent fillings of minced pork and chives into dumplings, then watch him fry them to perfection. Eden would sit on Natalie’s thick rug and eat them until her stomach stretched tight in her clothes.
In the days after her mother’s death, Natalie had wrapped Eden in a quilt to keep the wolves of grief away. Her best friend’s family had been among the small number of people who wore white in the sea of black at the memorial service.
Now Eden envisioned Natalie in her bedroom, sitting on her thick rug wrapped in a plush terry-cloth robe with her pet rabbit, Fiver, on her lap. Surrounded by macramé cords and wooden beads for her latest craft project, she would have a cup of tea within reach for inspiration.
“I have to admit, I’m surprised your dad didn’t turn around and drive you straight back to Maryland. This is true progress,” Natalie said.
“It’s too late for that now,” Eden replied. “My uncle is coming to pick us up.”
Since Safina Island had no bridges connecting it to the mainland, they would have to cross the water in her great-uncle’s boat.
“Spring break will be so boring without you.” Natalie paused. “Are you nervous? You’ll be meeting so many people at once.”
Eden was worried about this. Not only was she going to her mother’s island for the first time, but she would also be meeting that entire side of her family. She hoped that she wouldn’t disappoint them.
“Aunt Susanna has always wanted us to come visit. It’ll be okay.”
“That’s true,” Natalie agreed. “But I’m going to miss you! I hope I don’t get so bored I decide to cut my own bangs. You won’t even be here to stop me.”
“Stop being so dramatic.” Eden laughed. “I’ll only be gone for a few days. You won’t even get a chance to miss me.”
Natalie was quiet for several moments, but she spoke again before Eden thought they had been disconnected.
“You’ve always wanted to go to Safina Island,” she said softly. “I’m so happy for you.”
After Eden said goodbye to her best friend, she pulled out a photograph. Last night while packing for her trip, she had taken it out of the frame she kept on her nightstand. It was the same photograph she had chosen for the memorial service program.
Her mother had been in the summer garden drenched in sunshine. They had just returned from Thyme After Thyme Nursery with packets of seeds. Eden stared at the smudges of dirt on her mother’s collarbone and cheek. This was how she wanted to remember her. She turned it over and stared at the two words in her father’s handwriting: Beloved Nora.
Dr. Nora Gardener, the botanist and professor. The woman who kept her family name when she married. The mother who filled up Eden’s bedroom with glass globes full of soil and succulents.
A prick of pain twisted in Eden’s eyes. Blinking back tears, she pushed the icy sadness away. This was the thing she had learned about grief. It gave no warning. She was never prepared for its sharp sting.
“Eden?” Her father’s voice brought her back to the realm of the diner.
Dr. Leopold was standing beside her, his face full of concern. He stared at the photograph in her hands.
“Your mother was very happy that day,” he said quietly.
Eden sniffed and put the photograph back in her purse as her father slid back into the booth and picked up the diner menu.
“Looks like they don’t have fried green tomatoes,” her father said, a slight disappointment in his voice.
Eden peered out the diner window. This was the closest she had ever been to her mother’s birthplace. Soon she would be on Safina Island, and questions bubbled up her throat.
Her father lowered his menu. “Are you okay?”
“Why did Mom never want to come back here?”
Her father hesitated. “It’s complicated.”
Eden swallowed. “Are… are the Gardeners bad people?”
“No, of course not. They’re good, hardworking people, and your mother loved her family. It was hard after the divorce when her father, your grandfather, left the island.” Dr. Leopold ran a hand over his cropped curls. “Then she was in an accident and had to go to the mainland to recover. I think she never came back because all those memories haunted her.”
“She never talked to me about it,” Eden said. “Do you know what kind of accident—”
They were interrupted by the waitress arriving at their table with two glasses of sweet tea. “These drinks on the house. Y’all done figured out what to eat yet?”
Dr. Leopold ordered the special, and Eden ordered a cheeseburger and fries. Her father avoided meeting Eden’s eyes, and she knew that he wouldn’t talk any more about her mother in this public place. For now, her questions would have to remain unanswered until she arrived on the island.
Reading Group Guide
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By Karen Strong
About the Book
After the death of Eden’s mother, Eden and her father visit Safina Island, part of a group of sea islands off the coast of Georgia. Meeting her mother’s family for the first time, Eden learns about the history of her mother’s childhood home. Upon discovering one of her mother’s sketchbooks, a volume filled with terrifying images of a dark world, Eden can’t shake off the feeling that her mother’s drawings depict a real place. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and she stumbles into Everdark, a world of eternal darkness. As Eden sensed, Everdark was not merely a figment of her mother’s childhood imagination, but a realm ruled by a witch whose anger from the injustices done to her has created a world of endless night. Can Eden defeat the Witch of Everdark in time to save her own life and begin to move beyond the unbearable grief that lives in her heart?
1. On page three, you learn that Eden and her father have been in grief counseling after the death of her mother, and that “in a recent session . . . a decision had been made to visit Safina Island as a healing balm (Chapter one).” What is a balm? Why do you think that Eden persists in getting her father to agree to visit her mother’s birthplace? Throughout the book, Eden refers to her deep feelings of grief. In what ways is being on Safina Island a healing balm for her?
2. References to light and dark, sun and moon, and day and night run through Eden’s Everdark. What do you think these references represent?
3. After Eden and her father arrive on Safina Island, Uncle Willie drives them to his home as the sun sets over the island. He says, “‘Can’t see much now, but at dayclean, y’all have a feast for your eyes.’” (Chapter two) He goes on to explain to Eden that the term dayclean means a “A fresh day. When light banish dark.” (Chapter two) Discuss ways in which light overcomes darkness in the story.
4. As Eden discovers her magic, it reveals itself as a green light that can make plants grow. How is Eden able to summon this power, a power that she did not believe she possessed? Issac is able to “conjure light in a world of darkness.” (Chapter twenty-four) In what other ways do Eden, Isaac, Lorenzo, Ruby, Netty, and Old Bull create light in this dark world?
5. After Eden finds her mother’s sketchbooks and sees the frightening scenes that would reveal themselves to be Everdark, Eden senses a “faint recognition.” Why do you think Eden recognizes something familiar in her mother’s haunting imagery? What is intuition? Discuss additional examples of when Eden’s intuition surfaced. How did her instincts help her to survive in Everdark? What happened when she ignored her intuition?
6. Memory plays a powerful role in Eden’s Everdark. How do memories of her mother bolster Eden in her most difficult moments? How does memory become the catalyst to the story’s climax? In chapter twenty-nine, Eden wonders if the dead forget. She asks herself what she would be without the memory of the people she loved and who loved her. How do memories of those you love and those who love you shape who you are? How are memories gifts that can never be stolen?
7. In chapter seven, The Renata Mansion, Eden learns the history of how the Spelling Family brought enslaved people to Safina Island. Upon hearing this painful history, she feels anger and resentment like “a scalding brew in the pit of her stomach.” Eden experiences feelings of anger over and over again while being held prisoner in Everdark. How does she use her anger to her advantage?
8. Eden is a descendent of the Gardener family.
Her grandmother had told her it was after freedom that the family had chosen Gardener as their last name. It was what they had been known for on the island, because there wasn’t anything their family couldn’t grow. Never let anyone tell you that we were unworthy, Granny Alma had said. We were prized for our knowledge of the land, and that’s why we were enslaved. (Chapter seven)
8. Discuss the economics of enslavement. Why was enslaving people so vitally important to those who did so, so much so that they would fight a war to keep it from being abolished?
9. Eden is a curious child. Discuss specific scenes in which Eden’s curious nature both helps and harms her. Do you think it was more than curiosity that led Eden to discover the gash in the forest? If so, what?
10. Although Grace conspires with the witch to keep Eden a prisoner of Everdark, Eden is able to recognize the grief in Grace at the loss of her true love, Almond. How does the pain of losing her true love darken Grace’s heart? In contrast, Eden uses the grief over her mother’s death as a force for good. In what other ways are Eden and Grace similar, yet different?
11. Discuss the evolution of Mary Turner. How did the injustices and humiliations she experienced during her lifetime create the Witch of Everdark? How does her rage fuel her powers?
12. Eden’s curiosity causes her to ask Netty about her past. When Netty looks away, “Eden’s cheeks burned with regret.” (Chapter sixteen) What is regret? Why do you think she regrets probing Netty about her past? What does this feeling of regret reveal about Eden’s character? After Eden apologizes to Netty, Netty replies, “‘stop saying sorry. . . . That word ain’t got no meaning here.’” What do you think Netty means? When does an apology have meaning?
13. Hope is one of the prevailing themes in Eden’s Everdark. How is Eden able to cling to hope even after she becomes a spirit? In chapter thirty-eight, when Eden believes that the fallow seeds would no longer respond to her, “the elder stories gave Eden a glimmer of hope, a small kindling of faith.” How did the stories shared with her about her own ancestors give Eden the faith to believe in her abilities?
14. In Everdark, Eden learns that the bruises on her arm and hands are signs of the blowback. Netty explains what the term means: “‘Laying tricks that ain’t yours got a price. . . . Mother Mary took from the elder spirits when she brung the mansion here. Sun set and ain’t never come back up. She mark our skin too. Real color drain out.’” (Chapter twenty) Describe the term blowback in your own words. How does the term relate to the fact that all actions have consequences? Share examples of blowback that you have experienced.
15. Discuss Ruby’s betrayal and what motivated her to return Eden to the witch’s mansion. Do you think the lie was justified? Why doesn’t Eden trust her instincts as Ruby pretends to lead her back to Willow Hammock? How does betrayal influence the witch and the world she created in Everdark?
16. Eden discovers that the girl who Ade helped escape Everdark was her own mother, Nora. How does this realization and connection to her mother’s past give Eden a new sense of purpose and inner strength to defeat the witch?
17. In chapter thirty, The Witch’s Greenhouse, Eden experiences a “bittersweet twist of emotions.” Regret, sadness, and a “hollow happiness.” What do you think she means by hollow happiness? Discuss how the rose, with its beautiful blooms and dangerous thorns, is a metaphor for showing the “meaning of balance.”
18. In chapter thirty-one, A Packet of Seeds, Bull gives Eden a packet of sunflower seeds. Discuss the power of seeds. In the previous chapter, Eden recalls her mother saying that sunflowers are useful blooms. How does the author use seeds and sunflowers as the bridge to the climactic scene in which Eden is able to defeat the witch? Consider themes of light versus darkness, growth, renewal, inner strength, and memory.
19. In chapter forty-three, Eden is able to be with her mother for a short period of time. She is able to say goodbye. How does this encounter give Eden the closure she needs to move beyond her grief? Nora says to Eden, “‘Nothing ever dies. . . . It just changes.’” What do you think she is trying to tell Eden? Do you agree that nothing dies, but only changes?
- Broken Promises. In chapter one of Eden’s Everdark, Eden learns that Safina Island was the place where her enslaved ancestors had cultivated cotton and sugar cane, and that the federal government had granted them land after the Civil War, only to strip the newly freed people of their land once the enslavers returned to the island. This is just one example of the injustices perpetrated upon formerly enslaved people in the years after the end of the Civil War. Undertake research into this period of time in American history known as Reconstruction (1865–1877). Use reliable primary and secondary sources while conducting research. Work independently, with a partner, or in a small group to create a presentation or artwork to reflect your understanding of this period.
- Botanica. Eden’s mother, Nora, was an artist who had published two books of botanical art, illustrations of plants. (For a more complete definition of botanical art and botanical illustration, visit https://www.botanicalartandartists.com). Work with the art and/or science teachers to explore the history of botanical illustration. Explore drawing techniques used by botanical artists. Select plants and flowers native to your region of the world and create a local volume of botanica. Donate copies of the finished volumes to your local library or historical society.
- Culture Connections. In chapter four, A Special Celebration and chapter six, Island Stories, Eden begins to learn and appreciate her family’s unique island culture and heritage. She experiences a celebration, regional language, dance and music, cuisine, and folklore that help her begin to form a special connection with her mother’s and her own family members, as well as to the island itself. Reread these two chapters. Keep a list of those things that represent the culture of Eden’s Safina Island family. With a partner, discuss the items on your list. Next, think about additional aspects of culture that you could include, such as clothing, superstitions, values, symbols, and religion. Create a poster or digital slideshow that presents elements of your own family’s culture.
- Take the A Train. The Harlem Renaissance is a term used to describe “a renewal and flourishing of Black literary and musical culture during the years after World War I in the Harlem section of New York City” (dictionary.com). Mary Turner refers to Harlem as she describes to Eden how she was a budding star there after leaving Safina Island for New York City as a young woman. Research this time of creative energy in American History. Explore the great artists, writers, and musicians whose work still resonates with people to this day. To begin, explore the following websites:
- Flowers in the Dark. In chapter thirty-nine, Flowers in the Dark, the author uses figurative language, sensory details, and word choice to allow readers to vividly imagine each beat of the action and suspense. Reread this chapter in its entirety. Select one sentence or passage that you find the most gripping. Make a detailed illustration of this passage as you envision it in your mind’s eye. At the bottom of your illustration write the sentence or passage as a caption.
This guide was created by Colleen Carroll, literacy educator, content creator, and children’s book author. Learn more about Colleen at www.colleencarroll.us.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 6, 2022)
- Length: 272 pages
- ISBN13: 9781665904476
- Grades: 3 - 7
- Ages: 8 - 12
- Lexile ® 750L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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Raves and Reviews
"As haunting as it is heartfelt, Eden’s Everdark is a fantastically eerie tale of bound spirits and eternal night, rooted in family and blooming with love. Strong’s writing absolutely shines with magic."
– Heather Kassner, author of The Plentiful Darkness
"Eden's Everdark hums with magic and mystery--a novel brimming with unsettling secrets, quiet beauty, and fierce love. Karen Strong creates an enchanted world that reminds the reader that their light can shine, even in the darkest, most desperate hours. A sensitive and lyrical portrait about the complexities of grief, the power of hope, and of finding ourselves wherever we are."
– Samira Ahmed, New York Times bestselling author of Internment and Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds
"A deliciously creepy and suspenseful Southern Gothic story that engages with the consequences of the country’s monstrous past while also beautifully centering the story of a girl frozen by grief at the loss of her mother. What makes this book truly ingenious is the way Karen Strong shows that the salve to both these societal and personal wounds can be found in the same way: finding joy and love in community and a deep connection to family past and present. This is a phenomenal book."
– Anne Ursu, author of The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy
"Gorgeous, lush, and sparkling with strangeness, Eden's Everdark is a heartfelt, thrilling story about what it means to reckon with the past—and fight for the future."
– Hayley Chewins, author of The Sisters of Straygarden Place
“Karen Strong has performed a magic trick, weaving a story built on heartbreak and hope, tender intimacy and the sweep of history, sinister ghosts and debilitating grief, and tied it to a place that felt so real I could taste the salt in the air, and feel the gentle touch of familial love. I felt a profound connection to Eden - her sorrow and pain, her deep need to belong, her deep and suffocating fear, and her profound courage. She is a clear-eyed and indomitable heroine. Eden's Everdark is an intricate tale, both terrifying and heartbreaking, and it asks an important question: how do we free ourselves from the ghosts of the past? And how do we prevent the evil of others poisoning ourselves? This novel is stunning, moving, and marvelously strange. I loved every page.”
– Kelly Barnhill, bestselling and Newbery Medal-winning author
“Stunning, moving, and marvelously strange. I loved every page.”
– Kelly Barnhill, bestselling and Newbery Medal-winning author
"Karen Strong uses her particular brand of magic to weave a spine-tingling tale of ghosts and grief, and how we can be haunted by both in equal measure. A beautiful story that embraces the darkness, but always makes room for those glimmering threads of hope and love to shine through."
– Hanna Alkaf, author of The Girl and the Ghost
"A haunting enchantment, Eden's Everdark transports readers into a spirit world full of spectacular adventure, heart-wrenching truths, and a constellation of characters to be remembered long after the story is finished. A can't be missed novel working in the beautiful folkloric tradition of Black American storytellers."
– Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author
Awards and Honors
- Cybils Award Finalist
Resources and Downloads
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