“The children marched down the street in a crocodile, and only one of them looked back. The others didn’t turn, because they didn’t need to. There was nothing to look back for.” – Return to the Secret Garden
Published: 2015, Scholastic UK
Genres: Historical MG
Source: Review Copy
It’s 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion.
But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house – a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary and a garden. A very secret garden…
I may be 22 but this book had me feeling like I was 10 years old again, back in primary school and reading about this beautiful secret garden and Misselthwaite Manor. I can’t say that I read the original book over and over again when I was younger – once was enough back then – but I did watch the film repeatedly, each time revelling in how amazing the manor would be to live in, with all those pretty gardens to explore. I loved the story so much, that when I heard Holly Webb was bringing out a ‘sequel’ to Frances Hodge Bennett’s original, I just had to have it.
In Return to the Secret Garden we’re pulled into the story of Emmie as she, along with the other orphan children, is being forced to evacuate their London orphanage. Emmie doesn’t want to leave London, or her only friend – the stray cat Lucy – and doesn’t think she’ll ever be happy again. We really see the naivety of children here and how they may have perceived the war. They don’t really understand what is going on. As this book is aimed at a younger audience, I’m not sure they would completely understand the severity of this situation either, but the innocence of it all just drew me in further.
At Misselthwaite Manor, the children discover the wonderful feeling of being outside in the country, with plenty of gardens to explore, and Emmie soon finds some old diaries hidden in a drawer in her room. These lead her to a secret garden, only it isn’t so secret any more.
Of course, for those who have read/watched The Secret Garden, we all know the story of what happened back then, and Webb’s characters slip perfectly into the original tale, bringing the old story back to life through new experiences. It has got to be difficult to write a sequel to something that you didn’t originally create, but I think Webb has done it brilliantly. There are similarities to the original – Emmie is very similar to Mary, and her new friend Jack mirrors Colin – so as I was reading I was just getting all these feels and that’s why it just took me back to being a child.
Return to the Secret Garden can definitely be read as a standalone novel, but I think to really get a feel for that magic, you should read The Secret Garden too. I loved how the two stories fit together so perfectly as one. If you have a young child/sibling/cousin/friend, this would be a great present for them! (Or for yourself, if like me, you just love reminiscing and pretending you’re 10 years old again.) 4/5
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Holly Webb was one of the World Book Day authors for 2012 and has received high praise for her previous standalone fiction Looking for Bear, A Cat Called Penguin, The Chocolate Dog and A Tiger Tale. She published her 100th book, The Truffle Mouse, in August.
She worked for five years as a children’s fiction editor before deciding that she would rather write and now lives in Reading with her husband, three sons and just one cat.