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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Humming Room, written by Ellen Potter.Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2012. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"Another possibility occurred to her then, one that struck her as by far the most interesting. Maybe her uncle was exactly like her. Maybe he simply wanted to be left alone. Roo had never understood the strange attraction people had for one another. It baffled her the way people always herded up, endlessly talking, talking. What on earth did they have to say to each other?"

Roo loves to be in small, dark places where she can go undetected. We meet her first while hidden under the family trailer, behind the skirting that surrounds it. Luckily, she is unobserved when people come looking for her father and his girlfriend. In a drug deal gone bad, both die. It is an nosy neighbor who suggests the police might find her in her favorite hiding place.

Following placement in a foster home, she is sent to live with her father's brother, a rich and odd uncle she has never met. That doesn't change much as her uncle is rarely home and, when he is, he secludes himself. The story is set on a bleak island in the St. Lawrence River, called Cough Rock as it was at one time a sanitarium for children suffering from tuberculosis. It is an interesting, but odd, place that houses her uncle, his assistant Ms. Valentine and another worker named Violet. Roo's room is in the west wing. She is warned that the east wing is off limits.

As she explores she finds much more than she has bargained on: closed-up rooms, new sheetrock that covers only one half of the hallways she walks down, humming sounds. She even hears cries in the nights that make her wonder about ghosts. Persistent and drawn by her love of nature, she finds a passageway to an old, seemingly dead garden and decides that she will try to bring it back to life. It will give her something to do, and provide another secret place for her to be.

While carrying water to feed the plants, she meets Jack, a boy who makes his life on the river and who is believed by townsfolk to be a faigne. Jack is a great friend to Roo. They enjoy many small adventures together. He helps to calm her loneliness, and is willing to work with her in the garden she has discovered. Together, they begin to make progress in bringing it back to abundance.

Meanwhile, she is also surprised to find that she has a cousin named Phillip, a spoiled, lonely, boy who is never seen beyond the walls of his room. He suffers from depression at the loss of his mother, and is prone to screaming and fits of uncontrolled anger. He immediately feels an attachment to Roo and eventually, she takes him to the garden where the three children work together in peaceful companionship. It proves to be a healing place for all concerned, even her Uncle Emmett who finds them there one day.

Ellen Potter calls this a 'novel inspired by The Secret Garden'. Having never read that book, I have nothing to compare. I will tell you that I very much enjoyed this story. Ellen Potter creates a stunning setting, full of mystery and gloom. It is with the characters she fashions that the story gains real warmth and delight. Roo is a strong, independent young girl, often alone and content with her own company. She has a special affinity with the natural world, is open to healing through hard work and eventually lets her guard down in terms of the people she meets...Jack, Violet, Phillip and finally, Uncle Emmett.

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