Monday, October 1, 2012

Reveiw: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

The Humming Room -- Ellen Potter
February 2012 by Feiwel & Friends
182 pages Goodreads

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.

Inspired by The Secret Garden, this tale full of unusual characters and mysterious secrets is a story that only Ellen Potter could write.

This is an excellent book, a charming retelling of The Secret Garden.  Potter doesn't bind herself to the original story, nor does she just take the original and drop it into a modern setting: She gives it her own flavor while remaining true to the original spirit.  Even though I knew what would happen, the book didn't feel predictable.  It is an enchanting read.

I love Roo.  She has some real-life-hard problems that I wasn't expecting out of a middle grade novel: her mother ran off, her father's a drug dealer, her father gets murdered.  I can't decide whether or not I wish Potter had developed those story-lines more.  I would love to see how those issues would be handled for a younger audience; at the same time I think they would have gotten in the way of Potter's story.

Mary from the original is a snotty, bratty child.  Roo, by contrast, is more withdrawn, intentionally isolating herself in an effort to protect herself.  Finding herself in large spaces exposed "made her feel so horribly trapped, like a wild young fox that someone had snatched from the woods, dropped into a strange cavernous room, and then left all alone" pg 25.  She's wonderfully deer-like--quiet, watching, easily startled--but the river brings her out.  I love Roo's growth as she becomes more comfortable with the world and with people. 

Her friendship with Jack is gentle and wonderful.  I love his character, but Jack shouldn't be on the cover.  I'm picky about that.  The cover should focus on Roo.  Aside from that, the cover is gorgeous.

I love how the narrator brings us into the story at the very beginning, focusing our attention on the image of the trailer, then leading us to crawl beneath it to find Roo.  After the prologue, however, the narrative style switches over to traditional 3rd person omniscient.  It's not until the very end that the storyteller comes back.  I found that a bit jarring at first, but looking back on it I like the bookended-ness.  

My one criticism of the book is that it wraps up too quickly; the resolution is rushed.  Mr. Fenshaw comes back, they talk, and then everything is all better.  Aside from that, it's a lovely novel.  It would be a great introduction to the story of The Secret Garden for young readers or a wonderful revisiting of the old adventure in a new way for older readers. I see myself coming back to this book again.

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