Sophia’s well-read copy of The Secret Garden (with its slightly ominous 1995 cover).

As a little girl I always enjoyed reading. Most of the time I always had my nose in a book, and 99.9% of the time it was fantasy-fiction. One of the first fictional stories that did not have a supernatural element in it that I read was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Although I might be lying here. Magic is present in this story, but not in the way you would think.

Mary Lennox is a spoilt, rich child brought up in India in the early 20th century, by her ayah — and not her wealthy and important parents. She cannot dress herself, and throws tantrums whenever things do not go her way. When her parents die in a cholera epidemic, she is swept away to the northern moors of England to live with her mysterious, brooding and emotionally distant uncle at Misselthwait Manor. Wandering around the property and its vast grounds and gardens, she stumbles upon a garden, locked away and dead. As Mary nurses it back to health, it is not the only garden that goes through a magical transformation.

Mary’s transformation in the story is one of the best “makeovers” in fiction. She does not get rid of any glasses or straighten any hair (looking at you, Princess Diaries) — her personality develops because finally, she has something to care for; and something that cares for her back. Her personal development shows a strong girl, and even though you dislike Mary in the first many chapters, she grows and grows in line with her garden’s flowers, and affects everyone around her. She keeps her strong-willed nature all the way through the book, to the very end.

She finds her secret cousin Colin stashed away in a room by himself, supposedly crippled and not well enough to have ever been outside. Mary befriends him, but both children are stubborn and self-centered and Mary grows tired of his ways and makes him come outside with her in his wheelchair. Slowly Colin becomes a happy, healthy boy instead of a sickly, sour one. He learns to walk and play and scraps his Rajah-esque ways. Mary’s uncle Archibald Craven, has lived in solitude and sorrow after his wife died. He locked up her garden and never saw Colin to distance himself to everything that reminded him of his deceased wife. He spends most of the year away from the manor house, but returns in time to see Colin walking, the garden blooming, and he is happy for the first time in ten years. All because of Mary. She does not only change her own life, she changes the life of everyone around her with her actions.

Mary Lennox is a strong girl in fiction. The magic in the story, is the everyday world seen from the perspective of a child, but young girls and adults alike will enjoy this delightful book. One thing to learn from this book is to never underestimate a girl with determination and a knack for gardening.

-Sophia Louise Lee
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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