Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Published February 28, 2012.

Author website.

Hiding is Roo Fanshaw's special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment's notice. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life. 

As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth. 

Despite the best efforts of her uncle's assistants, Roo discovers the house's hidden room--a garden with a tragic secret.  (

To start off with fairness this is an MG read, not my forte but if the story sounds intriguing enough I'll snag it.  THE HUMMING ROOM fit this profile.  I keep a special place in my cockle area for things related to THE SECRET GARDEN so when I saw that this book was influenced by it I accepted it for review.  It was definitely a riveting story but the ending was abrupt, a blink and you miss it kind of thing that derailed the rest of the work for me perhaps a little more than what it should have.

Roo is an unfortunate case born to the wrong parents and as a result ends up in the care of her uncle who's more absent than present and keeps his kid locked up in his room for his sake, apparently.  It's a cyclical thing.  Phillip got depressed when his mother died and became bedridden but his father didn't really know what to do with himself and became more withdrawn, making them both more reclusive and fostering an environment of neglect and anti-social behavior.  Crappy situation.

Roo's a spunky little thing and doesn't put up with the crap that's been allowed to foster in this house and, as can probably be predicted, her presence riles things up, disrupts the otherwise fragile order of things.  THE HUMMING ROOM sticks pretty closely to THE SECRET GARDEN storyline so if you know the latter you'll know the steps Phillip takes and ends up with a reintroduction to his father and all of that.

Really it's a compelling story with the scene set magnificently.  The house, which is really an old children's hospital, is given this incredibly creepy air that'll give you the chills just reading it.  I mean how horrifying would it be to live in an old hospital where more children died than lived?  Seriously?  It may be Stephen King's wet dream but I sincerely doubt it's a child's first choice at a play place.  But I think that was the best part of THE HUMMING ROOM, Potter's ability to make Roo's surrounding shine.  Or cake them in cobwebs, as it were.  The setting itself was it's own character, from the personification of the river to the garden, everything was alive.

I felt Jack, the river boy, was ultimately irrelevant to the plot as a whole since the story really centered around Roo, Phillip and Roo's uncle.  He was a means to draw Roo out of her shell which precipitated the events that moved the story forward but he didn't have much else of a function.  Remove Jack from the story and I think it would have worked out just fine.

As for the end, like I said above, it was really abrupt and I felt it was resolved too easily, glossing over what could have been a really good healing period to see between Phillip and his father for a flash forward moment.  It plays into the nice resolution that I think a lot of MG novels have but as an outsider looking in it left me a bit unsatisfied.  I would have liked to have seen more.

Ultimately it's a read with a lot of ambiance that follows pretty closely to THE SECRET GARDEN premise.  It's a good story and you'll end up feeling a lot for Roo, I think, since she really is an unfortunate character and the adults are a little less than understanding towards her (you can start a drinking game for how many times they threaten to send her back to foster care as a means of discipline, effing terrible).  But she's a BIG character that, once she's out of her own shell, will pull others out of theirs as well.  She's goal-oriented and has an uncanny knack for hearing the earth thrive.  Kind of weird but it has it's part in the story.  A good story at that.

Ban Factor: Medium - The banners would actually have to read it but there's a lot of bucking adult instruction going on.  We wouldn't want to give children any ideas that they shouldn't always listen to adults, now would we?
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