This is a story that could easily be described as sweet, but that doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. Being a story inspired by The Secret Garden, the potential sweetness of the story is balanced by the prickliness of the characters. Like Mary, Roo has been stifled by a hard life, but fortunately she lacks Mary’s dislikable sense of entitlement. Roo lives a very internal life, preferring small, enclosed spaces and rarely feeling the need to interact with other people.
Instead of an isolated country setting, The Humming Room is set on an island in the St. Lawrence River, and the setting, and nature in general, are extremely important to the story and to Roo’s opening up. There is, of course, a secret space, walled off and neglected, and another neglected child. It never feels like Potter is slavishly imitating The Secret Garden – instead, it feels like she’s completely absorbed the tone and mood of the original and poured them out into a new story.
It’s been years since I reread The Secret Garden, so some of the details are fuzzy, but there were so many evocative moments and turns of phrase in this book that reminded of it. It’s a joy to read, both as an homage to a classic and as a distinguished story in its own right. Strongly recommended to readers who enjoy the original or who seek stories that connect them to the natural world.
Source: my public library
Previously, The Kneebone Boy.