Serviceable sequel to The Secret Garden sure to encourage readers to find original [Review]

John Millen |

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Return to the Secret Garden
By Holly Webb
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 978 1 407144 85 6

What exactly is the point of a sequel? If a sequence of novels is planned from the start as a series because the story is too big to be told in one book, like Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games, it makes sense. But if a second part is tagged onto a successful standalone work, especially many years after the original, it all seems a bit suspicious and money-grabbing. when that book has been a success, things get a bit suspicious and dangerous.

Sequels to well-loved classics penned by contemporary writers, and well-loved novels such as Treasure Island (1881), Five Children and It (1902), and Pride and Prejudice (1813), pop up in bookshops from time to time. Some are surprisingly enjoyable, but they rarely match the original for creativity or magic.
In Return to the Secret Garden, award-winning children’s author Holly Webb revisits Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 classic The Secret Garden. It’s a brave move, but Webb treads carefully, taking few risks and offering few surprises, but managing to come up with a serviceable story that doesn’t insult or damage the original. But it’s not a patch on Hodgson Burnett’s magical work, and it’s unlikely it will follow its predecessor into the realm of classic children’s literature, or to be the inspiration itself for a follow-up in a century’s time.
Return to the Secret Garden is set at The action and setting have moved on to the start of the second world war. A posse of youngsters from a children’s home are being evacuated out of London to relative safety in the northern British county of Yorkshire. Their new home until the end of the war will be Misselthwaite Manor, which just happens to be where the original “secret garden” was. 

Given the title of the book, it’s hardly a spoiler to say that Emmie, Webb’s heroine, discovers the secret garden while exploring the manor grounds, just like Mary Lennox did in the original. 

While exploring the manor grounds, Emmie finds the door to the garden, and She also finds Mary’s diaries, meets most of the cast of the original, who have aged, and in various shapes and forms. She copes very well when Webb drops a (fairly predictable) bombshell into the plot.

Readers don’t need to have read The Secret Garden to follow andget drawn into this new offering, but it would certainly help and mean more if they had. On the other hand, Return to the Secret Garden will enchant readers who don’t know the original, and if they do then pick up Hodgson Burnett’s truly magical story, they’ll be even more amazed by the classic.

And if Webb’s book encourages modern readers to seek out the 1911 novel, that’s a job well done.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]