*** Make sure you check out my interview with Ellen here, and while you're there, enter to win a copy of The Humming Room!
The Humming Room by Ellen Potter
Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads
Fantasy / Literary, 192 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by Feiwel & Friends
I guess I should start by telling you how much I love the classics - how I was this weird little girl who read Oliver Twist like 45 times, or got more excited about the box of illustrated classics I got for Christmas when I was 9 than I was for the toys (in fact, I remember none of the toys, but still have most of the books). And I should probably tell you about how much I adore Francis Hodgson Burnett, and have read The Secret Garden more times than should be mentioned in polite society.
I should tell you this so that you understand the equal parts excitement and trepidation I feel when someone says they are rewriting a classic, especially one so beloved. There's always the chance that it's going to be a giant fail, and that I will be stuck with forever associating it with a favorite book of mine. But thank you, grilled cheesus, this was not even a little bit fail. Ellen Potter really managed to capture the things I loved about The Secret Garden but still make them her own, which is no easy feat. She managed to capture the atmosphere of TSG, which is impressive because we live in a much less isolated world now. But for all that, people still feel isolated, which is one of the keys of the story. Potter captures both senses of isolation, the actual physical isolation and the way people close themselves off, and she worked them together beautifully.
Potter also captures the tone of the original. There's a dreaminess that I think a lot of children's books fail to capture, but that Burnett and Potter have. It makes me wistful, makes me miss being a kid, exploring and lounging in the hazy days of summer. Reading these books is almost like a memory - something is triggered and you can almost feel it again. And there's a longing that comes with that, a sort of knowledge that it can't go on forever, so it's bittersweet. Potter weaved this atmosphere, this feeling, throughout the book, and it made me connect to it in the way that I absolutely love, and that all children's books should strive for. It was a lovely reading experience because of it.
But what's most impressive is that she captured the heart of the book. I really, really liked Roo's blossoming. OMG that was a horrible pun. But I'm leaving it because it's totally true, and is an element that was carried over nicely from The Secret Garden. The whole story at its core is really about blossoming, about growth. About making connections to something outside of yourself, sending out your roots and flourishing. This is true of the garden and the characters (metaphors!!! *jazz hands*), and is part of what makes the story so charming and so relatable. Potter captures that growth and that sort of awakening really well.
Roo was charmingly dysfunctional. And just charming in general. As were most of the side characters. I think some of the negative aspects of personalities from the original were removed or sort of shifted. There wasn't really much of a mean schoolmarmy thing going on, or as much of a petualant, sick child. It was there, just a little milder. Roo was much more likable early on than Mary was. I think because you can immediately see how much she is hurting, where as Mary just seems spoiled. There is still a tinge of darkness to the story, but I think it's a more understandable darkness for a modern audience, and it never intrudes to the point of making a character unlikable.
My one drawback was that it ended a little too abruptly for me. Well, maybe not abruptly, but the end was lacking a little of the finesse that had made it so lovely. It's such a short book, so when a short book that is well developed throughout suddenly lets off at the end, it always makes me feel a little cheated. I can't help thinking in such instances, You weren't running out of room - it's a short book! Add a little, finish it out nicely for me. I hate loving and loving and loving something, only to end it saying "Oh..." [This is not to say it's a bad ending, necessarily, or that the book is any less worth reading. Just that - it didn't match up, and it left me a teeny bit disappointed.]
But that being said, it is a highly enjoyable story for those who have read The Secret Garden, and for those who haven't, as well as for middle grade and adult readers alike.
Plus, there's the Faigne. Worth reading, if only for that...
Make sure you check out my interview with Ellen!