Thursday, June 7, 2012

June Book Pick -- The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter

The Humming Room is a middle-grade novel based on The Secret Garden, and this delightful book may well send readers scurrying to pick up the latter, if they haven't already. Dark, yet sweet, this revisioning is modern yet hints at timelessness as well.

Roo Fanshaw likes to hide, and she has very good reason. Just as Mary Lennox becomes an orphan at the start of The Secret Garden, Roo also loses her parents suddenly and violently, to a murder that occurs in her trailer home while she is hiding beneath it. Like Mary Lennox, Roo is unlikable, and Ellen Potter does an outstanding job of creating sympathy for and emotional identity with her to compensate for this disadvantage. Since Roo has spent so much time under the trailer lately, while her family life disintegrated, she has made friends of tiny living things and likes to put her ear to the earth and listen to the life inside it.

Roo is shipped off to a wealthy uncle -- her father's brother -- who she didn't know existed (counterpart to The Secret Garden's Mr. Craven) and picked up for the journey by the acerbic Ms. Valentine (Mrs. Medlock). The uncle's mansion, a former TB sanitarium for children, is on an island somewhere in New England that the locals call Cough Rock. There, Roo meets Violet (Martha), is forbidden to go into the east wing, spends a lot of time puttering around by herself, meets a mysterious boy named Jack who has an uncanny connection to animals (Dickon), and finally, hearing horrible screams, goes to the east wing where she meets her unruly, sickly, bad-tempered cousin Philip (Colin). And, she takes an accidental trip down the body chute that had been used to remove TB victims during the building's days as a hospital, and discovers the secret garden, walled up and neglected after her uncle and Philip suffered the death of their wife and mother.

First Roo, then Roo and Jack, and finally the threesome of Roo, Jack, and Philip bring the garden, and themselves, back to life.

The Humming Room succeeds on all levels, and it does so, I was surprised to find, in a mere 182 pages. I was dimly aware, all the while I was reading, that this book was so much shorter than I would have guessed, yet the pace was never rushed. Beautiful language, convincing emotions, just lovely. Highly recommended.

15 comments:

Faith E. Hough said...

Wow, somehow I hadn't heard of that yet, even though The Secret Garden is one of my all-time favorites. I'm going to go request it from the library right now.

Bish Denham said...

Ooooo, I've LOVE The Secret Garden. And I love the title of this book, I'll have to look into it!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I am always impressed when an author can create sympathy for an unlikeable character. Thanks for this review.

Vijaya said...

Okay, this is a must-read now. My kids loved SG, so they will enjoy a modern-day retelling. And so will I. Thank you for spotlighting this book.

Mirka Breen said...

Thank you for highlighting a very good book, Marcia.

Marcia said...

Faith -- I think you'll really like this, then!

Bish -- It's really instructive in how one can do a modernized retelling. And so good to see you back!

Cynthia -- Oh, I agree! Sympathy for an unlikeable character is something I want to study more.

Vijaya -- It can be enjoyed on its own, of course, but if the kids already know SG, I think it'll be all the more interesting for them.

Mirka -- You're welcome! I love to gush about good books. :)

Jennifer Rumberger said...

The Secret Garden is one of the first books I remember reading and loving as a child. I read The Humming Room this winter and loved it. A great way to get kids to read the classic as well!

Emily R. King said...

This little book packs a big punch! Thanks for the recommendation. :)

Karla Gomez said...

Ooh, The Secret Garden was also a favorite of mine.
I will check this book out ^^ Sounds very engaging!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

You don't mean THE The Secret Garden, right? The one I read as a kid. I loved that book.

I'll have to keep both in mind once my daughter's the right age. I know it's not one my boys would like, but my daughter would.

cleemckenzie said...

Interesting spin off on The Secret Garden. Sounds great.

Marcia said...

Jennifer -- I agree. Classics and writing styles of old might not always capture kids today, but if they've already read the story in a newer version, that could help them tackle the original.

Emily -- Very well stated.

Karla -- I actually didn't read TSG till I was an adult. Too bad. :)

Stina -- I think it really would be cool for kids to read them back-to-back and compare.

Lee -- I think the author did a good job of really digging in and figuring out how to modernize it. It's not just a surface-level update.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Oooo, this sounds irresistible. I'm adding it to my list. Thanks for the review, Marcia!

Medeia Sharif said...

Many times short books seem rushed to me, but I'm glad this one isn't like that.

I have this on my wish list. It sounds like a great story.

Marcia said...

Ruth -- I think you'll enjoy it. :)

Medeia -- I know, even as I was reading I was amazed that the book didn't feel rushed. When you retell a story you have a standard to live up to, and that's got to add extra pressure. I like to see success. :)