Return to the Secret Garden – or, on Fanfiction

If you’ve read this blog before you may have picked up on the fact that I love Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It is one of the few novels that I return to at least once every year, and its warming charm has not been lessened in the slightest. It is a criminally underrated piece of magic that has a special place in my heart.
Because of this, I naturally felt a little flutter when I saw a new novel in my local bookshop, called Return to the Secret Garden. Could it be? Frances Burnett has been gone for a long time, so obviously somebody with a great love for the original work picked it up and decided to keep the magic going just once more. I couldn’t help myself. Of course I walked out with this book in my hands and a smile on my face.

I should have been more careful. People always say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but you should. A lot of time and effort has gone into making that cover, and to have it represent the story within. It is also a marketing tool, as a certain type of cover would fall into a genre and therefore a market more easily. So looking at the shiny, metallic pink cover of this novel I should have heard it screaming for a 12 year old girl interested in I don’t know, horses or something. It’s definitely not like there is anything wrong with that genre, or even with this kind of aggressive marketing. It is, however, not befitting the style of the original novel.

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Reading this novel really felt like I was reading a piece of fanfiction rather than a “real” novel. Fanfiction is when fans take characters and/or a setting from a certain work of fiction and write their own based off of that. The most famous platform for fanfiction is fanfiction.net. This type of writing is an act of fan love, and dedication for the source material. There is also a lot of it, and most of it is not very good (take note however, that some of it is!). A very famous example of fanfiction (taken to extreme success based on plagiarism), is Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as a Twilight fanfiction.

The problems with fanfiction as opposed to original novels are plenty but not crippling or necessarily true for all of them. The main problem, however, is that the work is based off of (generally) famous works that have a fan base already. Because of that the fan authors write with the underlying assumption that you already know the characters, and don’t waste time with character development. They also tend to forget about the age-old rule of show don’t tell. And that is the issue with this novel.

I won’t go into the plot of it, mostly because it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things: it’s almost the same as the original (another fanfiction staple). Let me just say a few final things to round off this review.

Holly Webb, the author of this sequel, seems like a lovely lady whose passion for the original work is very clear and rivals my own. I liked her vision of how the original characters would develop over time and the world war, and I applaud her for taking this risk. Her descriptions of the garden were pleasing, and I felt that her modern day Colin was very understandable and sympathetic – maybe even more so than the original!
That said, having the plot of this novel be almost the same as the original, and even adding a diary that “Mary wrote during the plot of the first novel” (which she obviously didn’t because we followed her through all of the novel and it wasn’t mentioned once, also it doesn’t match her style at all, also she couldn’t write)…. not a fan.

This is not the worst novel ever. Its descriptions of wartime impacting young children and families are good and very interesting, and the love for the original really shines through.
That said, this also not a good novel. The writing feels immature in a way, with a lot of telling rather than showing, and the plot is simply recycled.
I recommend this book to its intended audience, as demonstrated by the cover, the 12 year old girls interested in light reads about other girls with a little bit of non-threatening mystery.

Ms. Webb, if you happen to come across this review, I know it sounds bad and I have to admit I didn’t enjoy reading your book. However, I am also not your intended audience and came at it expecting something in a style completely different from what it is. I think it’s great that you were able to develop your passion for this great story into a work of your own. Best of luck to you in the future.

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