The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Cindy: Here’s a gothic tale of mystery set in a creepy old mansion on aptly named Cough Rock Island. The Humming Room (Feiwel & Friends 2012) is inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden but certainly reminds me of other books as well. Like Bod in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Roo’s adventures begin after the murder of her parents. Roo escapes due to her passion for hiding in small places and is sent to live with a mysterious uncle at his mansion that once served as a tuberculosis sanitorium. (We seem to be on a roll with tuberculosis books recently). She meets an equally mysterious boy named Jack who paddles silently by on the river (reminding me of Zazoo by Richard Mosher, a favorite unsung book). Then there is the strange humming noise she hears in the house, a sick, tantrum-throwing cousin she didn’t know she had, and the secret garden that brings the three teens together–resulting in new growth to the garden and to the characters.

I’m a big fan of Potter’s Olivia Kidney books and The Humming Room, while for a different audience, shares some elements that keep you a little off balance, make a familiar story fresh, and alternate between discomfort (using the corpse slide from the santitorium days to access the garden) and soothing (Roo’s fabulous descriptions of listening with ear to ground for the sounds in the earth–she can hear things grow). Give this to your young readers willing to take a risk.

Lynn: It’s not easy to do what Ellen Potter is doing here!  This is clearly a tribute to the classic story but it is also just as clearly Potter’s very own fresh creation.  The plot elements are there  – it’s what she does with them that makes this a gem.  I loved this as much as Cindy did.  The setting is exquisitely created, brought to life and nurtured just like the hidden garden of the story.   (I’m not sure I remember a book set in the St. Lawrence 1000 Island area before either and what a terrific location!)  Potter does some lovely things with the characters too, crafting small skillful moments that add up to reveal complex and authentic individuals who stretch and grow through the story.  For example, Roo prefers to be alone, hiding, watching and listening, avoiding people  – until she is sent to her uncle’s home and discovers that she dislikes her enforced solitude.  The mystery of the ghost adds a eerie quality, as Cindy says, and there are plenty of red herrings to keep the reader guessing.  I gave this book to one of my 5th grader book club members and can’t wait to hear what she says.  Stay tuned.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "The Humming Room by Ellen Potter"

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  1.' Stacy says:

    I loved this one too! A great tribute and fine writing as well. I can see it clearly and the small details Potter included really give readers a sense of characters and setting!

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