Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for The Secret Garden on 81st Street: A Modern Retelling of the Secret Garden by Ivy Noelle Weir. Special thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: The Secret Garden on 81st Street: A Modern Retelling of the Secret Garden
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 19 October 2021
Genre: Middle Grade Graphic Novel
The Secret Garden with a twist: in this follow-up to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, this full-color graphic novel moves Mary Lennox to a New York City brownstone, where she and her very first group of friends restore an abandoned rooftop garden…and her uncle’s heart.
Mary Lennox is a loner living in Silicon Valley. With her parents always working, video game and tech become her main source of entertainment and “friends.” When her parents pass away in a tragic accident, she moves to New York City to live with her uncle who she barely knows, and to her surprise, keeps a gadget free home. Looking for comfort in this strange, new reality, Mary discovers an abandoned rooftop garden and an even bigger secret…her cousin who suffers from anxiety. With the help of her new friends, Colin and Dickon, Mary works to restore the garden to its former glory while also learning to grieve, build real friendships, and grow.
GET A COPY:
Ivy Noelle Weir is a writer of comics and prose. She is the co-creator of the Dwayne McDuffie Award-winning graphic novel Archival Quality (Oni Press), the upcoming The Secret Garden on 81st Street (Little, Brown for Young Readers), and her writing has appeared in anthologies such as Princeless: Girls Rock (Action Lab Entertainment) and Dead Beats (A Wave Blue World). She lives in the greater Boston area with her husband and their two tiny, weird dogs.
TL;DR: Confession time: I’ve never read the original Secret Garden and to be honest, I’m not sure I ever will! Of course, I had a vague idea about the story though I still can’t say how “accurate” this retelling is. That said, I adored this touching graphic novel that deals with heavy but important topics such as loss and grief, and also has great anxiety representation. THIS MODERN RETELLING IS A SIMPLE BUT CHARMING STORY FILLED WITH DIVERSE CHARACTERS, SO MUCH EMOTION AND EVEN HAD ME SHEDDING A HAPPY TEAR OR TWO BY THE END (who’s surprised by this? nobody)!
I really enjoyed the art style! There is a lot of text at times but it was never unreadable and didn’t make the page feel overcrowded. I enjoyed how the story started with darker and more subdued colours that slowly changed to brighter tones alongside the seasons, Mary’s character growth, and the blooming of the secret garden! The illustrations did a wonderful job of capturing even the most minute character expressions and combined with the other little details about New York life (the food! the museums! the park and all the people!) it made for a very delightful read.
Mary starts off the story as a somewhat spoiled young girl who’s used to doing everything on her own but I really enjoyed how she developed! She grew up a lonely child in Silicon Valley, surrounded by video games and zero friends in real life. Despite the massive life changes she experiences, she has a “keep on moving forward” attitude that I admired, and it was a joy to see her slowly start to experience the things that she never had before—adults who “cared for her” (more on that later), friendships, excitement for life and passion for something aside from gaming. Dickon was such a cheerful and understanding presence in this story! Colin was a sweet, misunderstood and lonely child who has extreme anxiety as a result of losing his dad. I really felt for this little boy 💔 Together they made for an unlikely but adorable trio but it was sweet how they brought out the best in each other! I’m glad that Mary found her place and family members who would love, accept and care for her in the end.
Back to the adults of this story: not gonna lie, I was kind of miffed with almost all of them! Not only was there a strong case of “missing adult” syndrome here, they were also extremely secretive and neglectful. It didn’t heavily impact my feelings about the story, but I was pretty baffled that they let a child explore NYC by herself despite never having been there before? And also the fact that they essentially left her alone to deal with the loss of her parents? I was not a fan of Mrs Medlock despite her “good intentions”. 🤷🏻♀️
Although I think all audiences no matter the age will enjoy this graphic novel, I liked how the messages were kept straightforward and easy to grasp for the targeted younger audience. I especially liked how the different ways grief manifests was shown and the ways people cope with loss were highlighted—some people block it out like Maria, some people shut down every reminder of the person(s) they’ve lost like Uncle Archie, while others experience such shock that it badly triggers their mental health, such as with Colin. I thought the anxiety representation was also handled perfectly. The way Colin’s anxiety attacks were shown and explained was done very empathetically and clearly too! I liked that we hear from Colin’s perspective what he’s experiencing but that we also get a more ‘clinical’ explanation from his therapist.
Overall, I really enjoyed this modern retelling of The Secret Garden! The illustrations combined with this heartwarming and emotional story made for a surprisingly impactful read and I’m very glad that I got the chance to check it out!
Have you read The Secret Garden on 81st Street: A Modern Retelling of the Secret Garden or is it on your TBR?