Book Review: The Secret Garden

I grew up in the heyday of the 90s movies. Disney was still animating by hand, cartoons were a normal part of weekend plans and live-action movies had that specific film-processing quality that made everything feel magical and nostalgic.

Such was the case for the 1993 film, The Secret Garden, which I watched with consistent fervor for an era of my childhood. I was an only child for many years, and although I’m sure my mom made certain that I was not Mistress-Mary-Quite-Contrary, I definitely had my moments of only-child syndrome and could identify with Mary Lennox on some level.

My mom was also the type who typically insisted that we read books before watching their corresponding movies. However, I don’t think I had ever read The Secret Garden before this year. I picked up a copy in one of my typical Barnes and Noble hauls, promptly put it on my shelf and forgot about it.

After spending the past few years reading mostly nonfiction, I’ve recently experienced a renewed interest in fiction and have had fun getting lost in stories that blend enduring truths with a bit of fun and whimsy. So, it was with pleasure that I stumbled back into Frances Hodgson Burnett’s captivating little novel this autumn.

Right as the seasons were transitioning to cooler temperatures and shorter hours of daylight, I began The Secret Garden, a novel that warms the soul much like the first rays of spring sun warm the soil. The story begins in the languid heat of imperial India, where the whims of anyone who has money and light skin are met without hinderance. The novel’s protagonist, 10-year old Mary Lennox, is soon orphaned by way of cholera and she is sent, very-much-against-her-will, to live with a distant relation in the very distant land of Yorkshire.

For a time, she obstinately remains in the melancholy of a spoiled child who has never received tender love and care—refusing to let herself love or care about anyone but herself. But, curiosity ultimately opens the figurative door for her to let other people into her life, as well as the literal door into a garden that has been kept secret for a decade.

As sour little Mary tends to the garden, with the help of a local boy, she slowly warms up to the idea of loving other people, and perhaps more importantly, learns to love herself. In doing so, she blossoms into a bright child who spreads hope and joy to whomever crosses her path—including one or two characters who were previously destined for a life of misery.

“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.”

The Secret Garden (Barnes & Noble Classics | 2005. Originally 1911) p.182

The Secret Garden is a lovely treat to read, whether or not you loved the film as a child. While adults don’t have much of a taste for calling things “magical,” the miracles of life are undeniably notable when we take the time to stop and find some roses to smell. Hodgson Burnett’s novel reminds the reader to take the time to look for bits of green popping out of the earth, even and perhaps, especially, when all you can see is the dull brown of neglect. Sometimes we need a bit of pruning to bloom into our fullest, sweetest-smelling self.

“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands along and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun—which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.”


This book may be for you if you also like: The Secret Garden (film, 1993); The Little Princess (book, 1905 and/or film, 1995); England; moors; Yorkshire; gardening; long walks; fresh air; magic; nature; stories of character redemption; childlike wonder; gentle wildlife; delphinium, daffodils, poppies and of course, roses.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Your writing inspires me to read your book list! Thank you for writing!

    Can’t wait to buy your book!

    Liked by 1 person

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