The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Unconditional Recommendation: A story of mystery, transformation and new life for a neglected young girl, her fearful cousin, and an abandoned garden.

Age: Middle Grade
Series: Stand Alone
Pages: 358
Published: 1911

Genre: Classic

Prepare to be swept away and moved by this children’s classic. From the first chapter, this story enchanted me and Mary Lennox captured my heart. I hope it does the same for you because this book is a testament to the beauty of life.

Summary from the Publisher

“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen….” So begins the famous opening of one of the world’s best-loved children’s stories. First published in 1911, this is the poignant tale of a lonely little girl, orphaned and sent to a Yorkshire mansion at the edge of a vast lonely moor. At first, she is frightened by this gloomy place, but with the help of the local boy Dickon, who earns the trust of the moor’s wild animals with his honesty and love, the invalid Colin, a spoiled, unhappy boy terrified of life, and a mysterious, abandoned garden, Mary is eventually overcome by the mystery of life itself—its birth and renewal, its love and joy.

Memorable Characters

Ten-year-old Mary grew up in India under the supervision of servants who obeyed her every whim while her parents sought their own pleasure and neglected her. Spoiled and ill-tempered, Mary likes no one and no one likes her. When her parents die of cholera and the servants abandon her, she’s sent to England. Bereft of servants willing to wait on her hand and foot, Mary is finally forced to grow up. Kind people like the maid Martha and her younger brother Dickon are influential in Mary’s growth from a thin, soured child to a healthier, friendlier one. Her transformation is beautiful.

About halfway through the book, Mary discovers she has a cousin named Collin who has lived his entire life in bed playing the invalid and thinking about being a hunchback and dying. His servants cater to his behavior and he continues believing he’s sick, but in reality he makes himself sick by constantly thinking about his fears. Since he’s afraid of life, he has never been out in the fresh air and light, but instead has kept shut up in his dark room. Mary, spoiled herself though already growing out of it, is able to reach him like no one else can. She stands up to him and shares the life and light she’s been getting from Dickon and working in the garden. Collin is immediately taken with Mary and they become fast friends. Mary leads Collin on a personal journey of discovering that he’s well, will have a future, and has a reason to hope.

Though not a human character, the secret garden plays a big role in the book. Its mysterious history and hidden location draws Mary’s curiosity and interest, beckoning her to venture out from the cold manor of a hundred locked doors into the light and life of nature. The growth of the garden could be viewed as a parallel to the growth of the two children. Friendship, tending a garden and watching plants grow are all elements of this book that transform the children and introduce them to a better way of living.

Well-Conceived Plot

The story is well told. Interesting narration, vivid descriptions, and elements of mystery make this book an easy read. From the beginning, questions arise and before you know it you’re hooked, heart and mind. Why is the manor so empty and locked up? Why was the garden abandoned? Where does the robin live? Where’s the door? Where’s the key? Who’s this Dickon who talks to animals? Who does Mary hear crying in the manor and why are they crying? What’s wrong with Lord Craven? Will Mary make friends? Will Mary make the garden come to life again? Mystery keeps the reader engaged and once you’ve gotten to know the characters you happily stick around to the end.

Enduring Themes

Salvation & Redemption – dominant themes of the book portrayed in a well-thought web of connections in which one person’s salvation begets another—nature and the garden save Mary from her ill-temper and loneliness; because of Mary, Collin is freed from his fears; Mary, Dickon, and Collin save the garden from decay; and Mary, Collin and the garden save Lord Craven from his long depression.

Fear vs. Hope – The truth of fear is realized in Collin—fear and obsessing over your fears can literally make you ill and despairing of life. His fears weren’t true, but he needed a friend to help him realize the prison his fears had put him in. Once Mary comes into his life, Collin’s bondage to fear weakens and eventually gives way to hope and a will to live.

I loved seeing the contrast between darkness and light, fear and hope, death and life in this book through its characters. What more can I say to convince you that this is a beautiful story? Read it and be enriched!

Where to Find this Book: Amazon* or your local library!

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