The Secret Garden on 81st Street is an imaginative retelling of the classic story, The Secret Garden. In this contemporary reimagining, Mary Lennox moves to NYC to live with her Uncle and finds his neglected rooftop garden.
It’s a great read for tweens and teens which is why I chose The Secret Garden on 81st Street for my kid’s graphic novel online book club in 2024. This was a favorite for many of the students in the class.
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Ivy Noelle Weir
Genre: Fiction, Graphic Novel
Length: 256 pages
First Published: 2021
Publisher’s Description: The Secret Garden on 81st Street
“Mary Lennox is a loner living in Silicon Valley. With her parents always working, video games 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 whom 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.”
My Goodreads Review
This graphic novel is a reimagining of the classic story, The Secret Garden. In this version, Mary Lennox must move from Silicon Valley to NYC after her parents die in a tragic accident.
Her Uncle Archie keeps his home free from technology leaving Mary with the city and house to explore for fun. Mary soon discovers a cousin who suffers from anxiety and panic. Together with a local friend, Dickon, and the help of a local garden shop owner, Ben, they restore a forgotten rooftop garden to its former glory.
This reimaging was creative and unique while staying true to much of the original story. If your favorite part of the original story is the setting in nature and the enormous gardens, then this downtown setting and small rooftop garden will disappoint. I found it a relatable update for today’s youth.
Most of the students in my class appreciated the diversity of the characters and the inclusivity of the queer community. (Uncle Archie’s husband was the former gardener who died) It was fun to see well-known landmarks and sites in the Big Apple as well. We also had a great discussion about the reimagining of Ben as a garden shop owner instead of a gardener and the visiting robin (bird) in the garden as a cat named Robin.
Instead of a mysterious illness that has sentenced him to impending death, Colin Craven is diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks. Many students today can relate to anxiety and are very aware of the reality. The book included his therapy as well as different coping mechanisms he relies on when anxious.
While I have not loved every contemporary re-telling in this series, I did think this one was delightful and mostly true to the spirit of the original tale.
The Secret Garden on 81st Street: Discussion Questions for Your Homeschool Study
1. What changes were made to update this version of The Secret Garden? Which changes were your favorite? Are there changes you didn’t like?
2. Colin is suffering from anxiety and panic attacks in this book. How does this impact his everyday life? What do you think helps him start to heal?
3. How is the New York City setting used in the story?
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