the humming room by ellen potter

For not having read it before, The Humming Room was a nostalgic book for me. Based on The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), Ellen Potter’s adaptation has macabre overtones similar to Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) or Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) with a dash of Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie).

After Roo’s father dies, she is sent to live with her uncle on a remote island and is pretty much left alone. Her uncle doesn’t want to have anything to do with her. His assistant, Ms. Valentine, resents her presence. Only one employee is kind to her and she’s often busy doing something else. Everyone is keeping secrets from Roo, which is mostly fine with her because she just wants to be left alone. But one day she uncovers the secrets, and her life, and the lives of those around her, are changed forever.

Theme/Theology: Guilt and Ignorance are overcome by Friendship and Confession

Guilt over past events can trap you more securely than a locked room. Trying to avoid your past doesn’t make it go away. Forgiveness is key–starting with forgiving yourself. And love is the greatest nurturer of all.

Rating: PG

The Humming Room is suspenseful, but there is nothing in the book that should terrify child readers. Roo’s father was a drug dealer with a string of girl friends, one of whom was Roo’s mom who then abandoned her. Roo’s life before and during the story is just sad. She’s left alone. She’s never been shown love or kindness. She’s a compulsive thief. She feels safest when she’s hiding and watching the world go by. You wish you could give her a hug and some love.

The Humming Room has a fantasy aspect. Roo can hear the earth. Another character, a boy named Jack, is rumored to be a “water creature.” A ghost may or may not be present. There appears to be some sort of supernatural force at work. Nothing sinister, yet nothing godly. It just is, and the source of the paranormal aspects are not explained. They are subtle yet present.

Social Issues: Absentee/dead parents

The three children in this book — Roo, Jack, and Phillip– have no real parents. Their parents are either dead, have abandoned them, or are physically present but emotionally absent. The children become friends and work together to rejuvenate a garden. This gives them a combined sense of purpose, and helps with their self-worth/loneliness.

I liked the book, but it was sad. Perhaps morose would be a better word. The ending resolves favorably, so at least there is that. I enjoyed reading to find out what the secrets were. It has been such a long time since I read The Secret Garden that, aside from the garden, I wasn’t quite sure what Roo was going to find at the house. I will be interested to see what my daughter thinks of the book.

Have you read it or any of the other books mentioned here? If so, what did you think about it/them?


6 thoughts on “the humming room by ellen potter

      1. The Kneebone Boy has that weird, dark humor. I literally laughed out loud in places. It’s still got really touching, emotional parts, but don’t drink while you’re reading :).


  1. I want to read this. Secret Garden is one of my all-time favorite books (I “reread” it on audiobook last year). It falls into the category of “orphans and invalids” (Secret Garden, Heidi, Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables), which were the types of stories I adored as a child.


    1. I enjoyed it. I’m interested to see what my daughter will think of it. She tried to read Secret Garden last year but couldn’t get into it.(I’m not sure how hard she tried…)


  2. I love The Secret Garden so this definitely sounds up my alley! It’s one of those books I read every few years. Reading the description up top I was thinking, I know one of the secrets she discovers! 😉 I remember the original story being somewhat inspirational at the end, if a little too sweet. So it’d be interesting to see a more morose version, even though I always thought the original was heavy on that, at least for the first part.


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