The Humming Room by Ellen Potter
Roo has always kept to herself. Perhaps it was this tendency that kept her safe as her family was killed. Once Roo is officially on her own, rather than just functionally on her own, she must be sent somewhere. Somewhere is a foster home at first and then on to an uncle who lives on a remote island in a huge no-longer in use sanatorium. Roo is furnished with a room, instructions to not to explore in the East Wing and then is again, mostly left to herself.
She soon adapts to island life, including the few people she meets there, but she can’t stop her investigation of the house, especially since she’s been hearing strange noises, ranging from hums to cries. Roo soon discovers that the home and the island itself are harboring many secrets, but none so deep that they can’t be discovered.
This is a lovely and well-written take on The Secret Garden. While borrowing the main points from Burnett’s classic, The Humming Room still feels fresh and original. I won’t go into the parallels of plot and character, but if you’re a Secret Garden fan, you’ll note them yourself.
Age Recommendation: The Humming Room does have some harsh edges, particularly in regards to Roo’s past, so be forewarned about the content overall. It’s really family dependent when you’re trying to decide what age of child would be okay with the story (parts are a bit sad or creepy even if you have no moral objection to the drug dealing being mentioned, or fear of exposing your children to the murder aspect). But from a reading level perspective I would say advanced third graders might enjoy it, and certainly fourth grade and up. I would definitely say it’s easier to read than The Secret Garden, so for anyone who’s managed that first, this is fair game.
Great for: Fans of The Secret Garden. I can’t imagine liking the original and not liking this version. This also might be sort of a backdoor to the classic, if a child has read and enjoyed this, The Secret Garden might be easier to follow. Because of the parallels between the two any discussions of similarities and differences would certainly be rich so for teachers looking for text-to-text connections, this would be a good pair.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – Roo’s father lives with his girlfriend. Her mother was another girlfriend who didn’t stick around.
Profanity – “jerk” “shoot,” “hell-bent,” “shut up,”
Death, Violence and Gore – At the beginning of the book, although it’s rather veiled and cryptic, it seems a police officer has come to Roo’s home and her family is all dead. When questioned later, Roo says it’s their own fault they’re dead. Roo’s father’s girlfriend had a “violent temper”. Once after being in jail, her father returned with a bruise on his face. A girl grabs Roo and Roo struggles, kicking and hitting back. A ghost has been seen. When the house was a sanitarium, bodies of children who died were thrown down a chute and taken away to be buried. Roo has heard gunshots in her house. Roo opens an envelope and finds a bone. Her uncle’s wife died. Her uncle’s cheek is bleeding from a bite. There’s a rumor that a woman was murdered. A girl’s face is scratched and bleeding.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Supposedly Roo’s parents were drug dealers and other children tell her she’ll grow up to be one too. A woman goes on a trip with a backpack full of beer.
Frightening or Intense Things – Roo’s father has been to jail. Roo has to spend time in a foster home before being sent to live with a relative. She is told by other foster children that she is unwanted and no one will come for her. When she is collected by her uncle’s assistant, she’s told that if she’s too much trouble she’ll be sent back to foster care.