Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb is a magical story. Webb has placed the sequel in 1939 which is effective as it presents a believable way to bring children back to Misselthwaite Hall with the same sense of abandonment, a search for family and a need to belong. It is also effective as the whole concept of being taken away from the city and deposited in the middle of the countryside in a big rambling old house is very appealing to children.
Orphaned Emmie, has the same traits as Hodgson Burnett’s Mary, making her a little awkward and hard to like because of her stubborn attitude and slight unkindness. Emmie’s character softens very quickly as the novel continues and there is a lot of empathy and sympathy created for her when her more lonely and vulnerable side is revealed once the children arrive at the Hall and she explores the grounds.
Emmie is desperate to find something for herself. She wants to find a place for herself, a place to belong and in which to be happy. She stumbles across an old diary written by Mary and the similarities between them as subtly revealed. On her discovery of the Robin, who seems to want to communicate so much more to Mary than just his pretty song, Mary writes sadly “I don’t think I ever had a friend and I should like one.” Emmie’s relationship with her kitten Lucy exactly mirrors this. Webb has modernised Mary’s voice so her diaries are very accessible and read as fluently as a contemporary character.
Emmie is able to find the hidden key and discovers the secret garden. She is disappointed to find that it is no longer a secret. The garden will show its healing power and work its magic.
I thought the way Webb weaves her story in and amongst Hodgson Burnett’s story was really clever and interesting. She captures the same tension and suspense of the howling wind, the crying at night, the discovery of a secret place and the connections it has with the family’s past. The references and cross overs were sensitive and totally in keeping with the original. Emmie’s character is well constructed with her emotions being well represented. The reader follows her journey from being lonely, frustrated and angry to healing others around her and finally becoming part of something very special.
I received this book from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.