Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Completed: The Secret Garden

Dear Jenny,

Yes, I am woefully behind in these write ups -- I finished this book in May and now it's July August! (yeah... I started this post last month). But, you know... better late than never? Also -- I have kept up with my reading -- just not the writing. So get ready for a bunch of posts coming your way!

I must admit that my initial attraction to this book was the awesome cover...


Can you see that? It's photographed embroidery by an artist named Jillian Tamaki. Her dress is all French knots -- it's really lovely. It's also embossed, so the embroidery has a sort of 3D effect, which is extra cool. The series is called Penguin Threads and there are currently six titles available.

I especially love that the back of the embroidery is used inside of the covers, giving it the effect that the cover is actually embroidered:

Oh, yeah. And the pages all had deckle edges, so reading this book was a super tactile experience. Now that I've raved about the look and feel of this thing, shall I get to the content?

Basically: it's sweet. It's a children's book and I get why kids love it and why it's a classic. Have you read it? It's about a young orphaned girl named Mary who is a spoiled brat, basically due to neglect. When her parents die, she goes to live with her uncle who is also pretty neglectful (Yeah, yeah -- Invisible Parent trope. I didn't say it was terribly creative!) Left to her own devices, she befriends a servant's brother (Dickon) and discovers her uncle's son/her cousin (Colin) locked away in a room in the mansion.

Her uncle's wife (her aunt, I guess, although they never refer to her that way) had died some years before and when she died, her prized garden was locked away. Hence, the "secret garden." Along with Colin (this kid's story: they thought he was sick as a baby, so they kept him bedridden. Once he was bedridden, he got [and stayed] sick... kind of a vicious circle) and their pal Dickon, they go on a mission to find the garden and, once they do, they revitalize it. In the process, she becomes a better person and Colin experiences a complete turnaround in health and it all culminates in a happy ending where he surprises his father with his new-found vitality, as well as the beauty and health of the garden. And everyone is thrilled that Mary is also a good person now. Whee.

It's all very predictable -- it's a kids' book, after all -- but I think it holds up well over time (it was written in 1911). One theme I can get behind for kids (and adults) is what one might call "the power of positive thinking." Colin is "sick" because he has been deemed sick all of his life, but once he decides to get well, he focuses very hard on it and, with lots of exercise and Dickon's and Mary's support, he is able to gain strength and vitality. Of course, if a person is truly sick, this isn't going to work, but for those among us who create our own misery (or let another's misery drag us down), it's a good little inspirational message: dust yourself off and get workin'!

I was actually a little surprised by how strong some of those messages were in the book (the healthfulness of outdoor activity, the "mind over matter" will of Colin to get well, etc.) and made a (slightly minor) mistake by looking it up -- turns out it's all based on Christian Science, which Frances Hodgson Burnett was a big proponent of... But I say: Eh.  Kind of like finding out that The Chronicles of Narnia were a big fat Christian allegory (I was a little more aware with this book, being an adult when I read it). Still a good story with a decent message and I'm sticking with that.

I don't really have all that much more to say about it. It wasn't too complex, but I enjoyed it. And, you know... I really liked that cover. ;)



  1. K,

    The cover is amazing! I can totally see the appeal. I have not ever read this book. I do believe I attempted to read it as a kid, but I thought it was boring and gave up.

    The Chronicles of Narnia thing is funny, right. I had no clue as a kid, but not it's so obvious I wonder what I was thinking. I can't decide if it's better or worse to have knowledge of those themes. Sometimes it's just fun to read a book and call it done.


  2. "Sometimes it's just fun to read a book and call it done." Exactly! I was actually kind of nervous to look up TSG because I was worried about finding hidden weirdness.

    As for "what we were thinking" when we were kids and reading Narnia... we were thinking: "This story is f*cking AWESOME." And I prefer to just cling to that. :)