Title: The Humming Room
Author: Ellen Potter
Genre: Children’s, Juvenile, Mystery, adventure, fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars
Hiding is Roo Fanshaw’s special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment’s notice. When her parents are murdered, it’s her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.
As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn’t believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.
Despite the best efforts of her uncle’s assistants, Roo discovers the house’s hidden room–a garden with a tragic secret.
WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW
First: Gorgeous cover, and for once, entirely accurate to the story. I tip my hat to the artist.
The Humming Room is a reimagining of a familiar children’s classic: The Secret Garden. It’s a bit of a short read (182 pages), but perfect for a younger audience. Unlike the original story of The Secret Garden, The Humming Room is a more modern retelling—but we’ll get more into that in a moment. As far as the technical aspect goes, the story is flawless. There were no misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctuation problems. The text was clear, easy-to-follow, and engaging. My only nitpick about the way it was written lies with the use of a few rather heavy-handed words. There was just a spattering of what I’d call “Thesaurus words” throughout the narrative that were a little big for your average middle-grade reader, one even made me pause and try to figure out how to pronounce it. These are few and far between though, and certainly didn’t deter me (Or the 4th grader I was reading the book with) from enjoying the story.
The story follows a young girl named Roo. Roo has led a hard life; she was raised in a broken down trailer by drug-dealer parents, and the story starts after they’ve been murdered, and Roo is left to her own devices. To be honest, the subject matter gave me a moment of pause. You don’t see a lot of children’s books where the parents aren’t loving and don’t work normal jobs. Roo was neglected. She steals, lies, and spent the first few chapters of the book living in a foster home where she was mistreated by the other foster children. It isn’t a pretty picture, and certainly not what I expected. Despite the strange and unconventional beginning, I have to admit that Ms. Potter did an excellent job breaching the subject. Sometimes children don’t grow up in a happy home. In reality children often do live in situations like Roo’s, and as much as parents would like to shield their children from believing this is true, I must commend the author on tackling the subject. If you have misgivings about such a sketchy beginning, then let me put your fears to rest: though Roo’s upbringing isn’t favorable, the topic was handled well. There was no gore, no outright mention of murder, and no visible drug use. The story is told from Roo’s point of view, and while the adults reading this book will understand clearly what has happened to Roo, the subject is skimmed over in a way that I think will keep most children from becoming upset. It’s not graphic, and it doesn’t give any images that will traumatize your children. I found that the subject matter was handled tastefully.
What follows from Roo’s rocky beginning is a story I think most children will identify with. The story is filled with a little girl’s attempts to understand the very grownup world around her. There is mystery, adventure, wonder, sadness, and even anger. Roo struggles throughout the book as she learns to come out of her shell and make friends. Sometimes she gets angry, sometimes she gets sad—and I think a lot of children will identify with her. Everyone has moments where they are so angry that they blow up and do outlandish things. Everyone gets sad and lonely, and like Roo, every child is curious and yearns for the mystery and adventure of the world around them.
I read this book along side a 10-year-old, and we both loved every minute of it. We finished the book in three days (sometimes reading up to six chapters at a time). We just couldn’t put it down! Children will love this modern re-imagining of The Secret Garden, and I think adults will find the familiarity of the original story, hidden within it’s pages, a comfort. I loved the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a middle-grade reader. Though it’s not a happy story where everything is perfect and whimsical (not that the Secret Garden ever was!), I think it’s a wonderful adaptation of a classic story, and it could be a good opportunity to teach younger children that sometimes the world isn’t always perfect… but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy ending.