One summer when we had returned from Africa, my sister and I were packed off to stay with cousins in the heart of the Irish countryside while our mother returned to Africa. Our cousins were very similar ages to us but both boys, and they didn’t want us there.
We were the cousins from Africa, unfamiliar and strange. Anything that didn’t work out as the boys intended was blamed on us – even cricket results. We wore the wrong clothes, played the wrong games (though we did play cricket). It wasn’t helped by the sneaking suspicion that the adults didn’t really want us there either. Was it really necessary to say the reason for not going to see a film was because the girls wouldn’t like it? Still, there were highlights, such as a stay with grandparents who lived by the sea, and a visiting Canadian uncle who took us fishing, boys and girls alike. But all in all it was a pretty miserable summer and we were made to feel like some sort of outcasts.
So when I returned to school after the summer and found myself reading The Secret Garden it was something of a revelation to me, it gave me hope. I really felt for Mary Lennox, uprooted from her home and familiar ways, and dumped into a totally alien environment. Apart from the hair, the first couple of sentences could have described me.
When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another.
I identified with her very much: about the same age, a fish out of water, apparently disagreeable, so as the story unfolded it gave me great hope and I read it avidly. Perhaps one day I would find my own secret garden and not be "strange" any longer.
The whole of The Secret Garden is available to read online