Roo Fanshaw knows about hiding. She finds the small places, the forgotten places, and listens to the sounds of the earth. After her parents’ deaths, she’s sent to Cough Rock to live with an uncle she’s never met, or even heard of. At first sight it’s nothing to inspire- a former children’s sanitorium, Cough Rock is a cold, forbidding place full of secrets. Like the humming Roo hears through the halls. Like the uncle who vanishes for long periods of time. Like the river boy who isn’t tied to anything. But there are other kinds of secrets too, secrets that might be able to reach a lost little girl and give her something she’s never known before: a home.
I’ll admit, this is a book I first noticed for its cover. It’s beautiful and intriguing and it successfully made me want to know more. I read the description and thought: huh, this sounds a lot like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Then I read about it in the system at work and went okay, that would be why.
And it’s gorgeous.
This hovers somewhere between retelling and homage, taking all the best parts of the source material and adding things new and beautiful and just a little bit mysterious. It steps away from the foundation and becomes something wholly its own.
Roo is an amazing character. Mary Lennox eventually becomes a sympathetic figure, but Roo is someone we root for right from the beginning, as she hides under a porch and listens to the earth as police tramp through the house above her. It’s hard not to feel sorry for her- her life has seriously sucked- but we also admire her strength and her resilience. Even when she’s determined not to care, when she’s trying to be as cold and unaffected as she can possibly be, she has this deep love for living, growing things. She doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone, but slowly, carefully, she opens herself up to the many possibilities her new life has to offer.
This is a story that combines the original elements of a hidden away cousin, a dying garden, and a half-wild boy with the beautiful superstitions of a river people. Violet, a native of nearby Donkey Island, combines a no-nonsense good humor with the mysticism of old beliefs. I’ve never been to the St. Lawrence but after reading this book I feel like I have. It comes alive in the pages, in the many moods of the river, in the patterns of the terns and the mink, even in the neighbor mentality we see in bits and pieces. We see Roo and Jack (the half-wild river boy) and their connection with living things, see Roo’s deep yearning for the living things before she even knows how to name it as such.
This isn’t a story about a garden- it’s a story about a life and lives, about growth and hope and change. Every page is a treasure, a well-written gem that wraps around you and lingers like the deepening song of the earth.
Read this book for yourself, and if you have children- in your home or in your classroom- read it with them. This is not one to be missed.
The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter.
Until next time~