Saturday, April 24, 2021

Review - The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

by Mariah Marsden
illustrated by Hanna Luechtefeld
Date: 2021
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family—whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumors of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night.

As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions—a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals—she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite classics, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this graphic novel adaptation of the story. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations, it doesn't do the original story justice, and it's liable to annoy people who are tired of whitewashed history.

The main problem I see here is that, if you don't know the original story, you're going to be confused because the format leads to a glossing-over of many plot points and the character development is weak (and inconsistent with the original). For some reason, the decision was made to remove any mentions of India from the story (purportedly because "they don't do justice to the history of British oppression in colonial India"), rendering Mary an inexplicable orphan with no backstory and no reason for her appalling behaviour toward those she feels are beneath her. The British were in India and they acted like racist jerks; can we please not try to "fix" the problem by ignoring it?

In the original story, Mary is a lot more sour. Here, we see a badly developed child character going through the motions of the story. Even the artwork doesn't really convey the emotions of this hurt little girl very well, as the drawings make everyone look much the same. Colin is probably the best developed out of all of them, but only because he's such an over-the-top character to begin with.

I can't put my finger on the intended audience here, either. There's not a ton of text (there are many panels with no text at all), so it might be okay for younger readers. However, like I mentioned earlier, those who are unfamiliar with the original story are liable to be confused and/or underwhelmed by the rather thin plot as it's presented here. There is some historical information at the back, along with a strange glossary that defines many words that are only used in the author's note. While the factual information about Frances Hodgson Burnett, India, and the English countryside is nice, I don't really know why we needed a glossary. (And I don't know why India was too taboo a topic to include in the graphic novel itself, when it was okay to put in the notes at the end.)

Perhaps fans of the novel who want to read every adaptation will get more out of this than I did. I love the original story... but this graphic novel definitely did not measure up.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

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