The Humming Room by Ellen Potter
When Roo’s parents are murdered, it’s her ability to hide that saves her, as she retreated to her favorite spot under their trailer. There she can look at the items she has “collected” or stolen, and she can press her ear to the ground to hear the tiny movements of animals, worms and roots. After spending some time in foster care, Roo is taken to live on an island with her wealthy uncle who looks very similar to Roo’s father but with none of the carefree spirit her father had. The island is on the St. Lawrence and the house used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. Now Roo is left there with little attention from her often-away uncle, and two servants. The island is filled with life, including tantalizing glimpses of a wild boy who seems to live on the river. Roo has to discover the truth of the strange house and the many secrets it holds.
Potter has stated that this is a novel inspired by The Secret Garden, and readers familiar with that work will definitely see it woven into this story. At the same time, this book stands on its own beautifully. It is a delightful blend of character and setting. Roo is a prickly child, one who would be difficult to relate to except for her connection to nature. That small piece of her character alone makes her human and accessible for the reader. She is also prickly for very good reasons, including her parents’ death but also her misery of a life before their death. The reader understands Roo deeply. The secondary characters are all quirky and fascinating as well, especially the wild boy.
Then there is the setting. Potter brings the St. Lawrence, the island, and this house to life. This story could not be set anywhere else, as the setting is so closely married to the story. The river is a large part of the book, including Roo’s growing understanding of its moods and the isolation of the island. The house is central to the story as well, brooding and huge, its very walls hiding secret doors to wonders. Then there is the garden itself, because of course there is a secret garden, and its rebirth that echoes Roo’s.
Haunting and lovely, this book unfolds like the petals of a flower as each new discovery is made. Environmentalism permeates the book in a gentle, green way that leaves readers wanting to connect with nature and preserve it without ever being preached to about the issue. This is a delicate, wondrous read that is sure to be a hit with fans of The Secret Garden or those of us who are already fans of Ellen Potter. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel & Friends.