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Eden's Everdark

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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?

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Eden’s Everdark

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?

Discussion Questions

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?

Extension Activities

- 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:

https://www.nga.gov/learn/teachers/lessons-activities/uncovering-america/harlem-renaissance/harlem-renaissance-activity.html

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcDI3EZecbpBLAyA26jl8Q03yD2CxSdaL

https://kids.kiddle.co/Langston_Hughes

- 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.

About The Author

Photograph by Stephanie Ifendu

Born and raised in the rural South, Karen Strong spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She developed a deep adoration of books from her weekly visits to the public library. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she is an advocate of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). An avid lover of strong coffee, yellow flowers, and night skies, Karen currently lives in Atlanta. You can find her online at Karen-Strong.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 6, 2022)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665904490
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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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

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