The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir and Amber Padilla

The Secret Garden on 81st Street: A Modern Retelling of the Secret Garden by Ivy Noelle Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to tell you how much I loved this book without just shrieking “I LOVED THIS BOOK” and basically just repeating that for several paragraphs or so. The Secret Garden on 81st Street was everything I didn’t know I needed. It’s basically adorable. Just utterly, endlessly adorable.

France Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden was written in 1910. Not only have we changed a lot since then as a society, but any book that has endured for such a long time brings with it a legacy. Adapting that is hard. Working with that is hard. Putting that into a comic is probably harder still. I have so much respect for creators who can grapple with all of that and produce something as utterly charming as this.

The Secret Garden on 81st Street is a retelling made with love and respect; Misslethwaite Manor is transformed into an enormous New York home with a forgotten roof top garden. Mary is the daughter of Silicon Valley tech parents and spends most of her time online rather than off. It’s only when circumstances circumstance (can I put a spoiler in? I mean it’s a hundred years or so now but still, there are new readers so I’ll be coy) that she is sent to live with her Uncle’s family in New York. Not only is New York a brave new world for Mary to navigate, it’s also full of people and places and secrets.

I loved this book. (I’ve gone too long without saying it, so let’s do it again: I LOVED THIS BOOK). I loved how it’s as much a love letter to the urban environment and the city as it is to the garden itself. I loved how Mary goes out and discovers the world on her own terms. I loved Martha. SO MUCH. I loved the ending. SO MUCH. I loved how utterly genuine every single page of this book was. SO MUCH. And I think above all, I loved how unafraid Weir and Padilla were of the original text and how lovingly they made it speak to a whole new audience. That’s what you do with a classic. That’s it, right there.

Adorable, genuine, and rather utterly beautiful when it needs to be, this is (wait for it) lovely. So lovely.

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5 thoughts on “The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir and Amber Padilla

  1. I like The Secret Garden – possibly biased as FHB was from Manchester! – so I’m not sure how I’d feel about it being changed. I think people do over-analyse some books: I remember reading something about how the book was about the triumph of the patriarchy because it ends with Colin being reconciled with his dad, rather than with a scene involving Mary, and I’m quite sure that that thought never entered FHB’s mind!

    1. My perspective is that books like this are a route to the source text and they can remake and play and rejig that source as much as they wish (and indeed they should! I worry about rendering classics as these kind of inviolable precious things!). The ending here is definitely different than the original and, I think, better for the shape of story that this wants to be. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it if you do read! 🙂

  2. I was inspired to get this book based entirely on your review and read it over two days with my almost 5 yr old son. We both loved it. Oh and we love in NYC, so it was a double joy. You’re right. It is a homage to the urban environment as well! We have to go see the specific exhibits that cameo in the book!

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