Return to the Secret Garden
By Holly Webb
Sourcebooks, November 2016
About the Book
As she turned it the door creaked a little and opened inwards…
The only friend Emmie Hatton has ever had at the Craven Home for Orphaned Children is Lucy, the little black kitten that visits her on the fire escape every day. But when the children of Craven Home are evacuated out of London because of the war, heartbroken Emmie is forced to leave sweet Lucy behind.
The children are sent to Misselthwaite Manor, a countryside mansion full of countless dusty rooms and a kind, if busy, staff. Emmie even finds a gruff gardener and an inquisitive little robin that just might become new friends. And soon, in the cold, candle-lit nights at Misselthwaite, Emmie starts discovering the secrets of the house: a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary, and a very secret, special garden…
Return to the world of The Secret Garden with this enchanting new tale that will delight fans of the original story and new readers alike!
Emmie Hatton, our heroine, is an orphan. The book opens in London, 1939, with her orphanage being evacuated to the countryside. All are sent to Misselthwaite Manor. Emmie is upset. You might think naturally so. After all, the children are being sent to the countryside for their safety, in anticipation of London being bombed. It’s not just orphans facing this potentially traumatic move. But Emmie is upset by the fact that she can’t take “her” cat, Lucy, with her. She’s been told that animals are being put down—killed—because there isn’t enough food and resources. So to say that Emmie’s distraught at the idea of being separated from Lucy isn’t that much of a stretch.
Life at Misselthwaite Manor is nice enough. She soon finds a diary in her bedroom. It tells of a lonely, miserable girl named Mary. A girl who learned to jump rope. A girl who found a key. A girl who went in search of a door…in a wall. A girl who slowly but surely made friends and found her place to belong. Emmie wants that to be her story as well. So she sets off to find the door. She too finds the Secret Garden. She too makes friends with the gardener, the birds, the flowers. But will she find a family in her new “temporary” home?
Return to the Secret Garden is written for a much younger audience than the original The Secret Garden, in my opinion. The text is much simpler; the vocabulary much more accessible. Also there isn’t as much complexity and depth to the story or to the characters. It definitely is not action-driven. I’m not sure I’d call it theme-driven either. But it is very much about belonging and finding a place to call your own. It was nice to revisit some of the original characters. It may not have been the exact book I was hoping for. But it was a pleasant enough, quick enough read.
It would be interesting to see—perhaps as a young adult or adult book—a more direct sequel to the book that focuses on Mary, Colin, and Dickon before, during, and immediately after the Great War, the War to End All Wars. It might prove to be a devastating book—one that you’d have to put in the freezer. But it would be worth reading, at least in the hands of the right author.
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