by Francis Hodgson Burnett
What an excellent book! A bossy, spoiled girl named Mary is living in India until she is sent to Yorkshire England to live with her very rich uncle in his mansion when her parents die in an epidemic. The whole place seems to have a shadow over it, is shrouded in secrecy and her sour personality fits right in. She never sees her uncle who is always out of town, though he denies her no financial comfort. His wife had died and he’d never pulled out of the grief. On account of her unpleasant personality, the staff does not like her and they all think she is unattractive. Martha, however, a young servant girl about Mary’s age from a large poor family that lives on the Moor, befriends Mary and provides a doorway through which Mary becomes more independent, curious and personable. It is Martha’s mother that sends a jump rope to Mary through Martha that Mary starts to spend a lot of time outside. It is then that she starts to discover being a child, and begins to enjoy things that children like such as talking to robins and searching for doors to secret gardens.
All the time outside benefits her in every way as she becomes healthier, happier and discovers a way in to the secret garden. It is through working in the garden with Martha’s brother Dickon, that her transformation into a happy, healthy agreeable child really takes hold. This is also when she meets her cousin Colin, a sickly boy hidden away in the mansion because he doesn’t want anyone to see him on account of his insistence that he’s a hunch back and is going to die. He, too, is a bossy, unpleasant child who has everyone in the house walking on egg shells so as not to send him into a temper. It is funny and fitting that his equally spoiled cousin is the only one who can snap him out of his temper and point out the truth to him about himself.
It’s a wonderful story of people learning that in order to improve their lives they need only to improve their thinking and to let the magic (child talk for God’s Grace) take hold of them and make them better.
This was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Aside from the difficulty of reading aloud the Yorkshire accent, which I know I failed at in every way, this book was engaging, funny and – I’m going to say it – magical. It also gives you the urge to go outside and start gardening. My son has been outside most afternoons since reading this trying to befriend a woodpecker “like Dickon”. I’d read it a hundred more times and probably love it more each time. In fact, I think this book would be good medicine for a lot of what ails many people today. I whole-heartedly recommend it.