The Humming Room

Book Reviews

BCCB:
Potter, Ellen The Humming Room. Feiwel, 2012 [192p]
ISBN 978-0-312-64438-3 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-7

Hidden under the family trailer, Roo hears but doesn’t see the murder of her drug-dealing father and his current girlfriend. After a brief stint in a foster home, she is sent to live with her rich but reclusive uncle on Cough Rock, a spooky old house named for its former use as a sanitarium for sick and dying children. Add in a crusty personal assistant, a cheerful local servant, a mysterious wild boy, and a secluded boy cousin with a fearful temper who is not expected to live, and you have all of the right ingredients for this engaging revisitation of The Secret Garden. Readers familiar with the original will enjoy linking up the similarities in plot, character, and setting, which feel not so much derivative as delightfully familiar yet refreshed, and readers new to the story will find the elements that made Mary Lennox’s story an enduring classic combined here in a similarly compelling tale. The gothic setting allows the children both freedom from the watchful eyes of adults and a sense of lugubrious mystery, but the ghost that haunts the house turns out to be benevolent and even loving, while the children, like their turn-of-the-century predecessors, effect their own healing through working to bring a neglected garden back to life. Potter excels in creating quirky yet sympathetic characters with richly allusive connections to classic children’s literature; obviously here she is more directly engaged in that game of “this reminds me of . . . .” a game that will delight the bookish but may also snare the neophyte with a plot and characters that have enchanted readers for over 100 years and are here couched in the accessible cadences of twenty-first-century prose.  KC

Booklist:
The Humming Room.
Potter, Ellen (author).
Feb. 2012. 192p. Feiwel and Friends, hardcover, $16.99 (9780312644383). Grades 4-7.
REVIEW.  First published January 1, 2012 (Booklist).

Small, wild, and stubborn, 12-year-old Roo keeps her emotions close, and she prefers the constants of the natural world to the transience of people. When her drug-dealer father and his girlfriend are killed, she is sent to live with an unknown uncle in his isolated, cold island home. There Roo’s explorations uncover mysteries—an intriguing boy with unique ties to the sea; an elusive humming sound; a long-dead, walled-off garden; and, surprisingly, a frail, petulant cousin named Phillip. Secrets unfold, as do revelations about the power of compassion, as well as how relationships—between past and present and people and nature—matter. As such connections are made, Roo finds a sense of belonging. Inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, this noteworthy novel stands wholly on its own, as Potter, with classic and contemporary storytelling flair, deftly interweaves fantasy, mystery, suspense, and realism. Beautifully wrought, eloquent prose combines with vivid setting details and diversely drawn characters to affectingly portray themes of loneliness and grief. Roo is a memorable character—her experiences prove transformative in unexpected ways, and ultimately her complexities and growth ring true. Poignant without sentimentality, this is a compelling read that is certain to resonate—and linger—with young readers. — Shelle Rosenfeld

Horn Book Guide:
Potter, Ellen The Humming Room
   184 pp. Feiwel (Holtzbrinck Publishers) 2012. ISBN 978-0-312-64438-3
(4) 4-6 Orphaned Roo goes to live with her uncle on a remote island. She meets a boy magically in tune with nature; helps cure her ill cousin; and restores a hidden tropical garden. The St. Lawrence River is more distinctly evoked than some of the characters, but readers will root for Roo in this novel “inspired by” The Secret Garden.

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

School Library Journal:
POTTER, Ellen. The Humming Room. 184p. CIP. Feiwel & Friends. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-312-64438-3. LC 2011033583.

Gr 4-6–Roo, 12, witnesses her parents’ murder and survives by hiding beneath the family’s trailer home. A rather unlikable child, she’s a thief and she bites. She is put in foster care, where she is teased mercilessly by the other children, until a relative can be found. Then a previously unknown uncle turns up. He is wealthy and reclusive and lives on an island. He travels a great deal, so he sends his assistant to fetch Roo. On the train ride to Maine, Ms. Valentine lays down the rules about Roo’s new house, and the child immediately sets about breaking every one of them. She discovers a secret box underneath some floorboards. She hears a mysterious humming noise. She notices that a good portion of the home, which used to be a sanatorium for children, is boarded up. And, she wonders about a mysterious, homeless boy she notices on a nearby island. Soon, she’s noticing other mysteries and inconsistencies and makes a big discovery, which she keeps a secret. Sound vaguely familiar? The cover states that the book was inspired by The Secret Garden. It so parallels its predecessor that it’s really a modernized retelling that works on many levels–but not on others. It’s shorter and more streamlined and quite suspenseful. Yet, could a child be so easily hidden away nowadays? Fans of the classic will delight in the similarities and differences. Readers who might be intimidated by the original will find Potter’s telling more accessible.–Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closer, NJ

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