Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Classics Challenge #2)

Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Classics Challenge #2)


Shelved: Children’s fiction (classic)
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #2
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I attended a panel recently on children’s classics. On the panel was Kate Saunders (children’s author), Lucy Mangan (columnist and writer for the Guardian and Stylist) and Melissa Cox (children’s buyer for Waterstones). Everyone on the panel spoke about how much they adored The Secret Garden and that it was the ultimate children’s classic. How could I possibly ignore such praise? As I hadn’t yet chosen my second classic of the year, it seemed right to go with The Secret Garden. I remembered watching the adaptation as a child – and loving it – but I’d never read the book.

The Secret Garden is actually less about the garden, to me as an adult, than it was to me as a child. As a child, the garden – this beautiful, safe place that no one else knew about – was the most desirable, exciting, magical place, but now, the story seems more about the three children that occupy Misselwaith Manor, particularly our protagonist, Mary. Mary comes over to England from India after cholera wipes out her parents and servants, leaving her an orphan. Mary is certainly disagreeable – spoiled, bratty and ‘quite contrary’ – until she realises that as the youngest and newest resident of this isolated mansion in the English countryside, she is going to have to learn to dress herself and feed herself instead of being waited on, and above all, amuse herself. Mary might be a wretched child to some people on the surface, but she’s a little more complicated than that – she’s a child who has never experienced love and so she’s awfully lonely, as you can imagine. She’s a tricky protagonist!

‘People never like me and I never like people’.

Original 1911 Cover

Original 1911 Cover

The Secret Garden – Mary discovers, thanks to a friendly robin – is a special place, full of life and potential, which is just what the children have unknowingly been yearning for. The Secret Garden brings together the three lonely children: Mary, who has no close family and is not fond of people; Colin, who is so full of hatred, self-pity and anger, and who is not even sure whether his father loves him, but is certain that he is going to die; and Dickon, who although constantly has a bright and sunny disposition, prefers the company of animals to people, until he meets Mary.

The Secret Garden is charming and wonderfully written, full of the right amount of intrigue for children and tells the story of three very different children who you get to know well over the months, although you won’t quite know whether you like two of them! I can understand why The Secret Garden is considered to be the epitome of children’s literature and is still read and loved by many children today, even though it’s over 100 years old. Although the story did not quite give me the same magical feeling as it did when I was a child, I became invested in its characters and hoped the ending was as happy as I remembered. I must re-watch the adaptation!

‘I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.’

Have you signed up to the 2014 Classics Challenge?

Published: 1911
Publisher: Heinemann, but edition pictured published 2012 by Vintage
Pages: 384

The Secret Garden

22 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Classics Challenge #2)

  1. I absolutely adore this book, definitely one of my favourites from childhood. I completely agree that as a child, the garden seemed a really magical place, but that as an adult it’s definitely more about the relationships.

  2. Brilliant review! I must get hold of a copy. I’ve been slowly collecting children’s classics for a while now but have yet to actually read any of them. Maybe this is the year. :)

  3. I came to this classic as an adult, as my first audiobook, and I LOVED it.
    It was read by Johanna Ward, and she evoked such a great atmosphere.
    I now have the book on my shelves and can’t wait to read it to my children.

  4. This is one of my favorite classics! I just love the love/hate relationship between Colin and Mary. The adaptation is beautiful and they were very (I’m trying to search for the correct word but I can’t think of it, ugh) honest? to the book. I especially love how in the movie they hinted at a relationship between Dickon and Mary as they were my childhood OTP, heh. Great review, Stacey! Have you tried reading A Little Princess by the same author? It’s really good. :)

  5. That is a gorgeous cover right there, just lovely. Plus, it doesn’t scream CLASSSIC quite as much as some do. I recently reread A Little Princess by the same author and I have to say I much prefer contrary, sullen, down to earth and quite blunt Sarah Crewe – much more real than the little princess anyway! Lovely to read a review of an old favourite for a change too – will go and investigate the classics challenge now.

  6. Great review. I also came to this book as an adult and really enjoyed it. The garden really captured my imagination. I read it on my kindle but I have seen some gorgeously illustrated versions I would love to get my hands on. And I most definitely intend to watch the film.

  7. Hooray, this was one of my favorite books as a child! Your review makes me feel like I am long overdue for a re-read. I totally agree that Mary is a tricky protagonist but that’s why I liked her so much.

  8. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going
    to a famous blogger if you aren’t already ;) Cheers!

  9. I had to read this book for an English assignment. I actually thought more about the relationships than the garden, even though i’m not an adult yet. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to readers looking for a magical and slightly mysterious book.

  10. Read Warrior Cats!!
    And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
    And a Happy new year!!

  11. […] published a pretty new edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden this month alongside a 1930s sequel, Return to the Secret Garden by Holly […]

  12. The Secret Garden is truly the best book I have ever read, that is why I rated it a ten out of ten. I have never felt so caught up into a book as I did when I was reading The Secret Garden. It kept me wondering what was going to happen on the next page and no matter what, it always surprised me. Although I found this book very challenging to read, I got through it and learned a very valuable lesson, do not ever stop because something is too challenging because at the end of every challenge, there is always a reward. Ever since I finished reading The Secret Garden, I feel as if I am a more caring and thoughtful person. It showed me that you should spend your time being happy with what you do have, than being sad about what you don’t. The main character of this book, Mary, did not have anything. Her parents both died when she was before the age of ten and beyond that, neither one of them had ever wanted her from the start and made that very clear to her. She had never had any friends because she was such an irrigant and rude girl, but who could blame her when she had never been shown true love. The book is all about a girl and a boy, who meet while the girl was living with her uncle, who try to figure out how to get into the secret garden. The secret garden is a garden that belonged to the uncle’s passed wife. After his wife died he had not wanted anyone to enter the garden. The kids though, were so curious of what the garden held that they could not contain themselves from figuring out a way to get in. This book is packed with love, hatred, lies, friendship, and mysteries. It holds many lessons that can be useful in the world for forever. One lesson is, never lose faith, because you never know what is held for you in the future. This is proved when Colin, who has not walked since the day that he was born, learns to walk in the secret garden. Everyone thought that he would never be able to walk and gave up on figuring out cures. They were all wrong though, all he needed was people to have faith in him. In all, The Secret Garden has taught me many valuable lessons about two young and selfish children becoming kinder from the power of nature. The lessons learned from this fascinating story will definitely stay with me throughout my entire life!

  13. The secret garden is a book that I learned a lot of words and things. it is interesting for me at the ending i was feel happy because this story was fantastic!

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