Today I am delighted to be reviewing The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir & Amber Padilla as part of the TBR & Beyond Blog Tour. You can find the schedule for the tour HERE, so please do check out the other stops on the tour and hopefully we can tempt you to pick up this wonderful book.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
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.
The Secret Garden was one of my favourite books and films growing up, and I still revisit them both at least once a year, so I leapt at the chance to read this one and see this tale brought to life in a new time and setting, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Secret Garden on 81st Street was an absolute delight to read.
This is a charming, impactful retelling of a classic. The heart of the original story is still there, and if you’re familiar with the original then there will be familiar elements to the story, a well-remember rhythm. However, at the same time that heart is like a seed that has been nurtured and watered and coaxed into new life – a bit like the garden itself, to create a refreshing and important tale.
The setting itself couldn’t be more different, there are no bleak Yorkshire moors here, instead, we’re in the heart of New York with everything that entails. We still get that feeling of Mary finding herself in a new world, and all the wonder that comes with that – I loved her exploration of the different foods available, as well as the museums and park. It is doubly impactful, as this is a child who previously had been caught within a lifestyle that revolved around technology and gaming, so it wasn’t just about exploring a new city – but a whole world, and through fresh eyes and Noelle and Padilla manage to capture that perfectly with that sense of wonder, and the uncertainty that comes with embracing something new and strange. The art does a fantastic job of setting the scene as well, bringing the city to life with the same vibrancy and empathy as the quieter moments, and the garden itself.
That emotion and empathy is prevalent throughout the entire book, and The Secret Garden on 81st Street is a wonderful exploration of human connections that will hit home as much for adults as for children. We have Mary learning to connect not just with the world, but with people, after a lonely childhood ending in the loss of her parents. We have the people still reeling from Mashiro’s death and everything that was lost in the aftermath. This is a story of self-discovery and connection, but also a tale of grief – and how everyone grieves differently, from those that bury it deep, to those who run from it, and those with whom it manifests as anxiety. It’s a difficult topic, but one that is approached with sensitivity and care, the language is clear and purposeful and easy to read for middle-grade readers, and the meaning shines through clearly. I loved the emphasis on how people grieve differently, and Noelle and Padilla have a talent for capturing that anguish without losing the charm of the rest of the story. I also appreciated how anxiety was explained and shown, and from both sides – that of the person with anxiety, and those around them. It was a very open approach, the need for therapy was openly talked about and accepted.
The art style is beautiful – simple but sophisticated, and there are so many little quirks and details to delight in and complements the writing perfectly. This was a delightful and utterly charming book, and it has made me fall in love with this story all over again in a completely different way. The emotion and heart of this story mean that it will appeal to readers of all ages, while being beautifully geared towards its target audience, and this book is one you absolutely need to share with the younger readers in your life (and grab a copy for yourself too while you’re at it).
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.
I’m Amber Padilla, a cartoonist, and illustrator located in Oakland, CA. When I’m not making comics you can usually find me doing some sort of craft, but it’s crochet that has the biggest place in my heart right now. When I’m not drawing or crafting I’m either hanging out with my husband, tormenting my cat with kisses or Zooming with my friends and family.
I have a lot of great things in store over the next few years so I hope that you’ll stay tuned!
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.