For some unknown reason, The Secret Garden was an overlooked book in my childhood. My parents mostly read science fiction to me and I was content in my personal reading of girlhood staples like the Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women, and The Baby-Sitters Club. But because I’ve really been enjoying the Misselthwaite webseries based on The Secret Garden, I figured it was finally time to give this classic a read.
Mary Lennox is a little girl living in early 20th century India. When her British parents die, she’s shipped back to England to live with an uncle she’s never met. Everyone (including Mary herself) agrees she’s a very disagreeable child. When her maid Martha tells her about a secret garden somewhere on the grounds, she becomes obsessed with finding the long-lost key and door. Eventually, with a little luck, she finds them. Martha’s brother, Dickon, helps her tend the garden and bring it back to life. Together they also help Mary’s cousin Colin become physically and mentally strong again.
Unlike many childhood books from this era, The Secret Garden mostly holds up. There are a couple of the usual racist/classist/sexist cringe-worthy moments, but overall the book is a great read. There’s something timeless about the idea of a secret haven just waiting for someone to find it and make it their own. The passages about nature and gardening almost made me want to pick up a spade and some seeds and get to work. If you knew me in person you would know how ridiculous that sentiment is. But seriously, the passages about nature were my favorite and made me want to get outside and appreciate the world. There was some great character development with both Mary and Colin, but it’s a little light on plot. The last fourth of the book loses steam and delves into speeches about the power of magic and positive thinking. The book is still worth a read, but I wish it ended on a stronger note.