For anyone who has read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Ellen Potter’s latest book will feel very familiar. In The Humming Room, Potter has taken the metaphor of wild, neglected garden as wild, neglected child and updated it for a new audience.
Like Mary in The Secret Garden, Roo finds herself living with people she does not know, in a house that has many secrets. Her estranged uncle has no interest in her and his secretary is cool and efficient, but not loving and kind. Roo is used to being on her own and taking care of herself, so the isolation is welcome and comforting. What is not comforting, however, is the strange humming she can hear through the walls. Where is it coming from? Why hasn’t she been allowed to meet whoever is making those sounds?
Roo is not a happy child, nor necessarily a lovable character, but we understand how she thinks and what she needs to feel at peace. When she encounters who it is that is making the humming sound, Roo must learn how to include others in her world, opening her heart in the process.
Roo’s connection with the natural world is lovingly portrayed throughout the story, making her discovery and need to revive a lost garden quite understandable. All the wildness in this book—in Roo, in the garden, in the humming room—is not tamed but given room to grow and thrive. A cared-for garden is very much like a cared-for child: Given love and attention, both bloom into wondrous things.
This book is not a substitute for Burnett’s, but could be considered a welcome addition, one perhaps better suited for younger readers not yet ready for the fuller complexities of The Secret Garden.