The Humming Room by Ellen Potter – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Hiding is Roo Fanshaw’s special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment’s notice. When her parents are murdered, it’s her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.

As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn’t believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.

Despite the best efforts of her uncle’s assistants, Roo discovers the house’s hidden room–a garden with a tragic secret.

Inspired by The Secret Garden, this tale full of unusual characters and mysterious secrets is a story that only Ellen Potter could write.


The Humming Room is to The Secret Garden what the BBC’s Sherlock is to the works of Arthur Conan Doyle. This modern retelling is just brilliant, and – like Sherlock – clearly built on love of the original.

Both in its bones and at its heart, this book is a true retelling of The Secret Garden. The big moves, the character dynamics, the quiet nature of the story, all will ring true to any die-hard fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Potter has included every hallmark – the unwanted child sent away to live with an Uncle she’s never met, the mysterious house full of secrets, the friendship that remakes a family – but while all are recognizable, Potter has brilliantly laid claim to each and every one in her own way. Roo’s parents aren’t wealthy Brits, they’re drug dealers – she grew up in a trailer, not as a spoiled brat in India. The house Roo is sent to isn’t on a lonely moor, it’s on a remote island. The mysterious manner itself isn’t just a house of Victorian proportions, it’s a former sanitarium with a history of its own. Potter is truly original within the framework we all know so well, and she has made this story entirely her own.

The largest departure from the original story – and the true alchemy behind why this book is so very, very wonderful – lies with Roo, our leading lady. Roo is so very much more likable than The Secret Garden‘s Mary, who, let’s face it, is downright unpleasant at first. Roo is not an easy child, by any means, but she is difficult in an entirely different and entirely sympathetic way – she just wants to be left alone. Roo is both close to the world and far from it; her way is to hide and to observe. From all her watching, she knows things – about who people are and what they’re like – but she never lets them get too close. And so Roo lives in a world of her own, and she is indomitable in resisting those who try to drag her from it. Roo’s careful exploration of her new life, and the gradual way in which she warms up to the people she meets along the way, make for a beautiful portrait of a snail-like character easing her way out of her protective shell. Roo is strange and wonderful, and it is breathtaking to see this classic story through her eyes.

As for everything else about this book, it is exactly as it should be. The people are dodgy and mysterious in all the right ways; the setting hauntingly atmospheric, the friendships heartwarming, and the garden gorgeously detailed. Like its predecessor, this is not a book built on action or suspense – there is nothing loud or flashy to be found here. This is a story about family and love, and it is a beautiful one.

I really can’t say it enough – this is just a lovely, lovely book.

Byrt Grade: A+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

The characters and events are nearly exact counterparts to those found in the classic The Secret Garden. Potter intentionally evokes the earlier work, capturing its bittersweet emotions and fey qualities. But it is not a clone in modern dress. The author has created a fresh tale with a strong-willed heroine.

Novel Thoughts says:

The Humming Room reminded me of all the things I loved to do as a kid. Explore new places, talk to animals, hide in the smallest of spaces. It was like a glimpse of the past and it made me miss those simple childhood pleasures.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

In a resonant novel inspired by The Secret Garden, Potter (The Kneebone Boy) pays graceful tribute to the spirit of that classic. The author borrows plot elements effectively, yet her strong characterizations, fluid dialogue, and evocative descriptions give the novel a vibrant life of its own.