Eight-year-old Sophie has been left traumatised after witnessing the murder of her mother, Lucy, in the street near their London home. Sophie’s reaction to the tragedy is simply to stop speaking. Lucy’s best friend, Ellie Lerner, has travelled from America to London to try to help her goddaughter and she becomes determined to break through Sophie’s self-imposed silence. Knowing how much Sophie loves reading books, Ellie decides to introduce her to one of her own childhood favourites – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
However, Ellie has plenty of problems of her own. She’s left her husband Phillip at home in Boston – and she’s not sure if she wants to go back to him. Lucy’s grieving husband, Greg, is drinking too much and Ellie doesn’t want to leave him alone with Sophie just yet. And her divorced parents have just announced that they’re getting married again.
I was very unsure about this book at first; it looked very ‘chick lit’ and I’m not usually a fan of chick lit. So why did I request it from Transworld for their Summer Reading Challenge, you might ask? Well, the plot sounded interesting and the Secret Garden connection piqued my curiosity (The Secret Garden was one of my favourite books when I was a child – I really need to reread it sometime!). It’s nice to think that sharing a special book with someone can help them through a difficult time. I also learned a few interesting facts about the book – I never knew Frances Hodgson Burnett was inspired by the walled garden at Great Maytham Hall, for example.
The author has given Sophie a well-developed personality of her own, making her a believable and endearing eight-year-old. She’s a girl who prefers reading to playing games and as a result isn’t very popular with other children her age; Ellie’s own love of books helps her to form a bond with Sophie and watching their friendship develop was one of the highlights of the story.
This book is not just about Sophie though. I was kept guessing how Ellie’s relationships were going to resolve themselves, as it wasn’t immediately obvious what was going to happen. Would she go back to her husband? Or would she end up with Greg or someone else entirely? As the main character and narrator, I didn’t always agree with Ellie’s actions (particularly the way she had left Phillip without giving him a proper explanation) but as the book progresses it becomes obvious that she is grieving too – and not just for Lucy – and is trying to work out what she wants from life.
Another aspect of the book I found interesting was the way Ellie, as an American woman from Boston, had to adapt to the British culture and life in London.
So, although this was not a book I would usually have chosen to read, I did enjoy it. It was a much more complex and emotional story than I had been expecting with some important messages about love, loss, relationships and family.
I received a review copy of this book from Transworld Publishers as part of their Summer Reading Challenge.