By Anne Jorgenson
In my opinion, The Secret Garden is perhaps one of the best coming-of-age stories of all time. The story follows Mary Lennox, a sullen child born to parents who treat her like an old plaything rather than a daughter. When a plague strikes Mary’s home compound in India, everyone dies – except Mary. An orphan survivor, Mary is given to the care of her last known relative, a reclusive uncle who lives on the moor of Yorkshire.
Immediately, Mary’s life changes drastically. No longer is she given everything she wants just by throwing a tantrum. No longer is she ignored by her uncaring caregivers. At the efforts of her new maid Martha and her strict governess, Mary slowly reforms from a petulant, unhealthy child to a docile, healthy one.
Forced to explore the outdoors and be an actual child, Mary starts to wander through the gardens on her uncle’s estate. As her explorations grow deeper and deeper, Mary discovers a garden that has been locked away – a secret garden, if you will. Driven by curiosity, Mary sets out to uncover everything she can about the garden. During the journey, she grows healthier and kinder, eating more and becoming more active. She also grows closer to her maid, Martha, and begins to explore not only the secret garden, but the manor as well.
Eventually, Mary discovers a way into the secret garden and decides to begin restoring it. With the help of some friends, Mary makes it her mission to clean up the garden by weeding it, tilling it, and planting new seeds.
Reflected in the transformation of the garden is the transformation of the characters. Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden, expertly illustrates the characters’ gradual changes through simple, everyday events instead of unrealistic “epiphanies” that pervade other popular novels. Change doesn’t happen overnight; most changes are small, almost unnoticeable elements that altogether create a larger object. Seeing Mary develop from a spoiled, hateful child to a strong, mature one is incredibly rewarding and heartwarming.
Burnett is also amazing at illustrating important life lessons.; you really do become the people you surround yourself with. After Mary becomes friends with Martha’s incredibly kind and selfless younger brother Dickon, she starts picking up some of his traits, becoming more kind and selfless herself. The girl who was once so spoiled she didn’t even know how to tie her own shoes becomes the girl who talks to birds and cares for animals. It’s an amazing yet believable story and honestly such a classic that you just need to read it. Though it’s over a century old, it’s themes are still relevant in all the ways that count: appreciate what you have, don’t take anything for granted, find pleasures in the little things, and never stop growing.