by Sally Gardner
reviewed by Margaret Kalaw
Sally Gardner’s fantasy novel, I, Coriander, relates the adventures of a child as she becomes a confident young woman through challenges that require her to move between her own world and a paranormal one. Set in England during the 1650s, Coriander begins her unique story by describing her innocent childhood. As a child, she feels happy and safe living along the River Thames with her parents, Eleanor and Thomas Hobie, and their beloved house maid, Jane Dames. However, everything changes after an anonymous package is left outside Coriander’s home. Believing this gift to be for her, the young girl is dismayed when her mother hides the package, seemingly for no reason. Still, Coriander manages to obtain the forbidden present from her father’s study.
Following this childish mistake, Coriander’s mother mysteriously becomes ill and dies, and Coriander’s father becomes depressed. He imprudently remarries a random woman, then flees England, leaving Coriander with her cruel new stepmother, Maud Leggs. Maud and her partner in crime, Arise Fell, gradually ruin Coriander’s perfect world, destroying everything she once loved. They lock Coriander in a chest, leaving her to die, but while she sits in imprisonment a blinding light suddenly appears. The novel continues as she transports to another world, learns of her mother’s true past, and embarks on a daring mission in which she proves herself as a courageous and independent individual.
In her writing, Gardner skillfully portrays character development by placing emphasis on Coriander’s name throughout the novel. In doing this, Gardner shows readers the importance of knowing one’s identity. When Arise Fell decides to call Coriander “Ann” rather than her true name, the young girl narrates, “I knew then that my name had been stolen from me . . . I would have to find it, for without my name, who was I?” (Gardner 82). After this, Coriander becomes a victim of Arise and Maud’s abuse, unable to stand up to them because they stripped her of her identity. However, by the end of the book, when again questioned about her elegant name, she confidently replies, “I have had my name taken from me once before. I had to fight to get it back. My name is Coriander” (Gardner 270). Through Coriander’s developed understanding of herself, Gardner emphasizes to her readers that knowing oneself leads to better confidence.
Despite having beautiful themes and insights, I, Coriander left me with a few unanswered questions that I hoped would have been explained by the end of the novel. However, other readers might appreciate this about Gardner’s story. I would recommend I, Coriander to anyone looking for an easy fictional read that still addresses meaningful topics, including identity, courage, and integrity.