"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend

{book} the humming room

After The Kneebone Boy of course I was going to read Ellen Potter’s newest book. It didn’t hurt that it sounded intriguing, and that it was inspired by Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden did not serve as a detractor either. In short, The Humming Room was going to be win-win-win. And turns out–it is!

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

I am going to admit to you that I am not the biggest fan of The Secret Garden, primarily because I found the characters incredibly annoying. The blame lies completely with me, I’m sure. However, I was spared this same experience with The Humming Room. I even found one to be downright charming–‘course, he was supposed to be.

You don’t have to have read The Secret Garden to read Potter’s story, but if you have, I think you’ll appreciate that which inspired and that which underwent change. For one, I loved that the setting was a sanitarium, it was very atmospheric. Roo comes out of poverty, and while she has a temper, Potter has set her differently and it translates well into the contemporary American setting. And the non-cousin has a bit of lore attached to him that is marvelous–and romantic. It is all very sweet, which balances out the mysterious and the melancholy. Potter does not flinch from the tragic, but carries the story by sheer force of personality–those of her characters. Potter stays true to the themes we loved in Burnett’s exploration. These are two great authors you and the young ones should be reading (boy or girl).

Ellen Potter knows how to tell a story. It has a nice brief introduction and closing and the metaphors presented throughout are lovely lovely. Story and character both have a nice progression, and manages to embarrass the longer novels offered on juvenile shelves. It is a good quick fun read that robs the reader of nothing.


recommendations: ages 8 & up; any gender. Potter deftly handles the deaths, as well as the specter of neglectful parents (one set of whom are known drug-dealers). Good for eco-crit; for creatives; for lovers of adventures and lore and mysteries  and those brief chills at the back of the neck.

of note: The Doctor Oulette’s name kept making me think “oubliette;” which is oddly fitting. Also, I like how she deals with the character. Not everyone has to be explained. You can make a pretty good decision in regards to what he is all about; and yet there is room to apply a reasonable amount of gray.


The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Feiwel & Friends, 2012. Hardcover, 182 pages.

my “review” of The Kneebone Boy

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