This is an excellent mystery for middle grade children, boys and girls alike. It is a mystery, quite tense and scary at times, filled with all the excitement of a ghost story on a lonely island. It is a story of friendship, of loss and renewal, of coming of age, of the beginnings of romance. It is a story of healing. There is magic and fantasy and sadness and joy. It is a lovely little book.
Roo is the star. She lives a sad little life in a trailer with her dad and his girlfriend. When they are murdered she is shipped off to a foster home and then to an uncle who lives on a remote, lonely island on the St. Lawrence River, Cough Rock, to live in a forbidding-looking mansion, formerly a children’s hospital, thus its name. It was sanitarium for children with TB. There she discovers family secrets, hidden rooms with a hidden cousin, abandoned rooms with hidden treasures, a ring from a former patient, and secret passages, tunnels to basements and hidden gardens, and then, she discovers the Faigne, what some people think is a mythical boy who lives on the river, but he turns out to be quite real to Roo.
Her uncle is cold and distant, mourns the loss of his wife by rejecting everyone. She discovers her cousin, living in a remote room of the mansion, prone to fits, mourning the far too premature loss of his mother and a father who rejects him. Violet, a young, happy governess and all purpose helper, cook, etc. and Ms Valentine, a stern, not very warm assistant to her uncle, keep the house running smoothly, preparing meals and caring for all of them. In their own way, they try to bring order to the house, the rumors, the madness and loneliness that surrounds the family.
Roo is a loner; she doesn’t much like people. She is small for her age, fits into tiny places and loves to hide away in secret spots. She loves living things and can hear the sound of the earth…the humming of things growing. She is stubborn, brave and reckless at times. She can do mean things, without understanding the consequences, or without caring, because she doesn’t feel cared for by others. She likes to steal because she has so little of her own. She likes to make things grow, so she planted glass animals and plants and snakes under the trailer in which she lived with her dad and his girlfriend, before their murder. Her neighbor would leave things out for her to take, when she looked away, because she understood that Roo would not accept anything from her. Roo rejects people because they reject her, due to her strangeness, poverty and belligerence.
The characters are interesting and well developed. Roo Fanshaw never knew her mom. Her uncle is the double of her father. The Faigne, Jack, seems to have no home or relatives. Phillip, her cousin, mourns the loss of his mother and feels her presence in the house. He is subject to fits and tantrums. He is wasting away from neglect. He pines for his mother and his absent father. Roo rescues Phillip from his madness, befriends the faigne, Jack, tames her uncle and brings love back into the mansion.
This is a wonderful little book, based on “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett