Into the Bright Open (A Secret Garden Remix)
Feiwel & Friends
Published September 5, 2023
About Into the Bright Open
In the Remixed Classics series, authors from marginalized backgrounds reinterpret classic works through their own cultural lens to subvert the overwhelming cishet, white, and male canon. This queer YA reimagining of The Secret Garden subverts the cishet and white status quo of the original in a tale of family secrets wonderful and horrifying.
Mary Lennox didn’t think about death until the day it knocked politely on her bedroom door and invited itself in. When a terrible accident leaves her orphaned at fifteen, she is sent to the wilderness of the Georgian Bay to live with an uncle she’s never met.
At first the impassive, calculating girl believes this new manor will be just like the one she left in Toronto: cold, isolating, and anything but cheerful, where staff is treated as staff and never like family. But as she slowly allows her heart to open like the first blooms of spring, Mary comes to find that this strange place and its strange people—most of whom are Indigenous—may be what she can finally call home.
Then one night Mary discovers Olive, her cousin who has been hidden away in an attic room for years due to a “nervous condition.” The girls become fast friends, and Mary wonders why this big-hearted girl is being kept out of sight and fed medicine that only makes her feel sicker. When Olive’s domineering stepmother returns to the manor, it soon becomes clear that something sinister is going on.
With the help of a charming, intoxicatingly vivacious Metis girl named Sophie, Mary begins digging further into family secrets both wonderful and horrifying to figure out how to free Olive. And some of the answers may lie within the walls of a hidden, overgrown and long-forgotten garden the girls stumble upon while wandering the wilds…
Reading a fresh take on a classic always feels like a bit of a gamble to me. This is especially true of books I read as a child, like THE SECRET GARDEN. I read THE MARROW THIEVES by Cherie Dimaline, though. I loved the writing and the way the author puts characters on her pages. I’ve been following the series of remixed classics a little bit (So far, I’ve only read MY DEAR HENRY, but I loved that one, too.), but when I saw that it was Cherie Dimaline who was retelling THE SECRET GARDEN, I could not wait to check it out.
Just like MY DEAR HENRY, the tone and style of the writing made this book feel like a classic. It’s been a while since I read THE SECRET GARDEN, but especially the scenes in which Mary is outside, working in the garden, felt like a perfect homage to the original story. Those scenes were some of my favorites.
Though the original story is set in England, this one is set in Canada, and that worked perfectly. Instead of Martha and Dickon, we have Flora and Sophie, biracial (Indigenous and white) young women who challenge Mary’s snobberies and help her see her world and her new home in a new way.
I loved the way this story centered so much on the relationships between the female characters. Flora and Sophie are mentors and friends. Mary and her cousin Olive form a strong bond as well. There’s also Aunt Rebecca, Mary’s step-aunt, who runs the household with an iron fist. She is also, perhaps, a representation of who Mary could have become if she’d never embraced changes or personal growth.
I guess all that is to say that this series impressed me again with the beautiful reimagining of another familiar story. I think Cherie Dimaline is a perfect choice to retell this story because she did it so excellently. If you want to read for a more inclusive, classic-style story or find a reimagined version of THE SECRET GARDEN, grab this one right away.
Recommended for Ages 10 up.
Mary is white. Several important characters are Indigenous. (They describe themselves as half-breeds, French and Indigenous.)
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used very infrequently.
Kissing between two girls.
References to a couple who died by drowning. References to child abuse/neglect.
A woman administers a foul-smelling medicine to a child, which she claims is at the direction of a doctor.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of INTO THE BRIGHT OPEN in exchange for my honest review.