Monday, October 05, 2015

A Garden of One's Own, or, Book Review: Return to the Secret Garden (Return to the Secret Garden Blog Tour)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite books of all time. It's certainly my most reread book, my copy boasts a heavily creased cover and spine as well as yellowed, torn pages. When I was a teenager I had a habit of reading just my favourite scenes in books over and over, so until quite recently it had a bookmark in it at the scene where Colin gives a lecture about Magic. When I reread it in preparation for Return for the Secret Garden, I was slightly underwhelmed by that scene - I'd mythologised it in my head, remembered it as longer, more dramatic.

That's what I do with my favourite parts of my favourite books and films and songs, especially when I haven't revisited them in a while. Those scenes or dramatic moments become bigger to me than they are, and I forget the rest of what made them so great. As I reread, or rewatch, or relisten, I reevaluate it, and the thing as a whole, and this often leads to surprising revelations. See my previous post about Harriet the Spy - in that case I thought I loved best the parts about sneaking around and spying on people, but it was the stuff about writing that really sunk in.

Anyway, remembering that scene so fondly, I thought what I loved most about The Secret Garden was the Magic. Wrong again! As an adult, reading it, I realised what actually I loved most is the secret garden! (And this isn't just because I've recently become obsessed with plants.) I love seeing private spaces. Photographs of lived-in houses. Scenes in films with carefully constructed and personalised rooms - the teenage bedroom, the shop the character owns and decorated themselves. At night, on the top deck of a bus, I look out for open curtains and gleefully stare into other people's houses.

Mary Lennox is a girl who doesn't have anything of her own, a space where she can be herself. Her bedroom is a place she is brought to and taken out of on the orders of others - but the garden she finds by herself. It's her sanctuary. On this reread, I was actually slightly disappointed when she starts letting other people in!

My much-loved copy of the original book. View on Instagram.
Return to the Secret Garden is set thirty years after the original, and follows another young girl's search for a place where she belongs. Emmie has never really had a proper space of her own. She lives at an orphanage, where she shares a dormitory with other girls. To snatch some privacy, she climbs through a window onto a rickety old fire escape. It's there she meets a stray cat, the first thing she has that's really hers (as much as a cat can be owned!). But then along comes the Second World War, and the orphanage is evacuated. Emmie has to leave her cat behind and travel a long way to a strange old house in Yorkshire, one Misselthwaite Manor.

I was a little apprehensive about reading a sequel to a book I love so much, but I found Return to the Secret Garden charming. It was great to see another little girl find a kind of home in the garden, even though it's no longer locked, and she has even less right to it than Mary, being an unconnected orphan, rather than the niece of the manor's owner.

Like Mary, she is grumpy and sometimes rude, but also very determined once she gets an idea in her head, and I loved all these characteristics in Mary. Many people prefer Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess to The Secret Garden, but I am a Secret Garden person through and through. It helped that I actually owned a copy of The Secret Garden. I read A Little Princess one time and returned the book to the library. I  saw the film once for my birthday. That was enough (though when I rewatched it as an adult, it did make me cry).

Sara, the 'little princess', is too good to be relatable, she's always kind and sweet, no matter what happens. Whereas Mary gave me hope - that even if I wasn't perfect, I could be likable, and I could try and improve. Emmie is the same. She's an orphan, but she is neither tediously pathetic or overly good. She seems realistic, as do all the children, who fight and fall out but ultimately help each other out.

My least favourite part was seeing the children of The Secret Garden as adults, but that might be only because I have never ever imagined them grown up! I think children reading this after the original won't find it jarring at all.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed reading Return to the Secret Garden as a child - it takes some of the best features of the original and puts them into a familiar yet strikingly altered setting. It's a cute, quick read. Many thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy (it's a particularly gorgeous little hardback) and to Faye Rogers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

Have you ever read a sequel to a children's classic that wasn't by the original author? What did you think? Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour and enter the giveaway! Yes, Scholastic are giving away a copy of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett and a copy of Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb to one lucky blog tour follower!

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