Feb 9, 2012

Review: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Book cover of The Humming Room by Ellen Potter
Title: The Humming Room [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Ellen Potter [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Retelling
Published: February 28th, 2012 by Fiewel and Friends
Format: Kindle edition; 192 pages.  
Source: ARC copy from publisher via NetGalley.

Roo is a tiny girl, whose aptitude for hiding saves her life when her father and his girlfriend are murdered in their trailer home.  Having never known stability, Roo is taken in by her uncle’s household, though she is offered neither comfort nor affection.  Roo explores the grounds of Cough Rock, and the old TB sanatorium that is now her home, finding long forgotten secrets, a mysterious new friend, and the opportunity for family.

You guys!  The Secret Garden was/is my favorite childhood classic, I loved this book that seemed so magical but possible, full of hope and rebirth after tragedy and depression.  Heck, for all I know, The Secret Garden is what sparked my Anglophile tendencies (hand in hand with A Little Princess of course.  Because nothing says awesome like growing up in India and returning to Britain as an orphan).  It’s certainly how I learned what a moor was.  I am overcome with joy to tell you that The Humming Room captures all of the emotions and beauty of The Secret Garden in what is a wonderful retelling.

There’s something very comforting about reading retellings.  It’s kind of like that friendly feeling you get while rereading one of your favorite books.  You know what’s coming, but you also know you’ll love it, and retellings are a way to put a fresh face on your favorite tales.  The Humming Room deviated fairly little from The Secret Garden in its main plot points, but the details Ellen Potter chose to use when telling the story made it increasingly relevant to today’s readers.

Roo is from a family broken by drugs and death.  She’s essentially trailer trash that has been moved about constantly whenever her father would get into trouble.  Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of kids could identify with her--she has internalized much of her pain, never having a soul to lean on, but her self-confidence and sense of right are unwavering with such optimism.  It’s charming.  Also I like stubborn pig-headed little kids; I was one myself.   I found myself just wanting to give Roo a big ol’ hug and be her best friend.  The adults in the story weren’t bad, but they still angered me.  They baby Roo’s cousin to the point that he has become an intolerable brat.  They feel his behavior is justified because of the loss of his mother, and yet respond to Roo as if she is a terrible burdensome little girl who just needs to get over her new orphan status and behave perfectly already.  These were the same emotions I had when reading The Secret Garden, and reading it was like cuddling up in a comfy blanket with a warm cup of tea.

Here’s one of my favorite parts:

She worked for hours until she was drenched with sweat, and so thirsty that her throat stung.  Finally, she sat back on her heels, exhausted but happy.  The sun was pouring into the atrium now, bathing the garden in pale light.  The little plots of bare dark earth looked so promising that she leaned down, put her ear to the ground and listened.  Astonishingly, she heard nothing at all.  

That had never happened before.  Even in the crawl space under the trailer, in the middle of winter, she could hear life beneath the soil; it was a languid, subtle sound, but it was there.  

In this garden, though, there was only silence.  It was the nothingness of death.  Frighteningly permanent.  The garden had been erased from the world, in the same way that her father had been erased, extinguishing everything that he was--the good and the bad.  

Once more she pressed her ear to the earth.  Concentrating fiercely, her sensitive ears strained to hear a sound, the smallest sound.  She stayed that way for a long time, motionless, eyes closed.  Then, after many minutes, she thought she heard something.  It was weak and frayed around the edges, and it came and went, like shallow, feverish breathing.  Sometimes, it fell silent for so long, Roo thought it had stopped altogether.  But after a while it would start again, struggling.  So fragile, so almost-not there.  

“Stay alive,” Roo pleaded.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: I should totally read more Ellen Potter, but I haven’t heard anything about her works.  Anyone have any recommendations?  

Recommended for: The Secret Garden fans, those who love retellings, kids (or adults) who need a bright spot when in a bad place--this is a total comfort read!

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  I wanted a garden, but we live in an apartment. So I got an orchid, and Wocket destroyed it.  

orchid destroyed by cat
So I got a hanging plant...
cat lusting after plant


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Umm total Anglophile over here!! William Shakespeare IS my homeboy! This book sounds fun though I didn't love The Secret Garden as a child, I do love a good retelling! Also I think Wocket is going for that hanging plant soon, that could be very entertaining!

    Side note: It posted my comment before I clicked post or typed in my little code!! Magic..?

    1. I'm going to go with computer ghosts. Yeah, Wocket started knocking some leaves off as soon as the vines started growing down a bit more. He can't abide any living things in this apartment besides us and him.

  3. I hear ya, after reading The Humming Room, I wanted to find out if The Kneebone Boy was good, because The Humming Room rocked.

    I love your sentiments about the comfort of a re-telling. It's certainly a wonderful experience and feels like coming home when done right.

    1. Thanks! I'll let you know/you should let me know if one of us tries The Kneebone Boy. I'm glad you liked The Humming Room too!


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