Book Review: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

16 Mar

Book cover for The Humming Room by Ellen PotterTitle: The Humming Room

Author: Ellen Potter

Genre: Middle Grade/Children’s

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Published on: February 28, 2012

Source: NetGalley

Summary: Hiding is Roo Fanshaw’s special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment’s notice. When her parents are murdered, it’s her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.

As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn’t believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.

Despite the best efforts of her uncle’s assistants, Roo discovers the house’s hidden room–a garden with a tragic secret.

Oh, friends, I know I’ve been showing more-than-usual love for middle grade lately, but seriously? When a middle grade book is as short and sweet and lovely as THE HUMMING ROOM by Ellen Potter is I really can’t help myself. This book has some of my very favorite story elements in it: tough-as-nails young girls, books set on or near bodies of water (I know. WEIRD), boats, secret rooms, gardening or flowers, orphans, pseudo-paranormal/vaguely ghosty presences, and quirky locals. The only thing I might complain about is the fact that THE HUMMING ROOM isn’t longer, because I could have read about Roo and the Fanshaws and Jack and Cough Rock for a while more.

Without question, the star of THE HUMMING ROOM by Ellen Potter is our indomitable, spirited girl, Roo Fanshaw. She’s kind of in a sad state at the beginning, and she keeps people at a distance with her silences and her sticky fingers. Her parents are murdered in a drug deal gone bad, and Roo is shipped off to her heretofore unknown uncle, who lives secluded in a huge, mysterious, former tuberculosis hospital on an island in the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. (Side note: Clayton, NY, is a for real place that has tons of little islands in the river where people have built their homes. It looks really pretty and quiet and peaceful. Also maybe a little boring, but I’m going to stick with “quiet” and “peaceful.”) But you guys? Roo is so spunky and strong and smart that it’s really impossible not to LOVE her to infinity. She’s the kind of kid who pulls no punches and tolerates no BS. A tough cookie, is our Roo. Inquisitive, too. Not one whole day passes in her uncle’s house before she’s wandering around, investigating things, hoping she hasn’t accidentally found her way into the forbidden “East Wing.” It was so satisfying to read about her discovering her new home and its mysteries, meeting new friends, and cultivating her hard-to-classify, very vaguely supernatural ability to listen to the earth. (I know, I know. Sounds like a wackadoo kind of thing, but it isn’t too weird in context.)

Of course, the earth isn’t the only thing Roo cultivates while at her uncle’s home. Well, she DOES literally find a long-abandoned garden in the center of the house that she slowly but surely brings back to life, and reading about the flowers and how she and her new friend Jack tenaciously coax life back into the plants and trees was really sweet and awesome. But the things that I thought were the most touching and important for Roo were the relationships. When THE HUMMING ROOM begins, Roo keeps to herself, gladly. But as she spends more time on Cough Rock and discovers more things about her uncle and his family, she gradually sets off on this path of making friends, and it’s really quiet but special. Jack, her island orphan friend, is one of those easygoing, confident, disarmingly charming, mysterious kids. (Because, upon further thought, I know TONS of 14-year-old boys like this, obvs. But you get me, right?) I can imagine him being a HEARTBREAKER in two or three years. But he has this instant connection with Roo that I really enjoyed. Ellen Potter really did a great job showing their slow but wonderfully developed little friend-crush.

The setting really comes alive in THE HUMMING ROOM as well. The islands are an important backdrop, and they were just the PERFECT place for this story because they embody the same tone in which the story is told: quiet, simple, but beautiful and full of little gems that require some work to reveal. It’s not a place that gives up its secrets easily. Plus, the locals have this great, odd sense of things. Lots of folk tales, superstitions, legends, and quirks, and guys? I LOVE THE QUIRKY LOCALS.  

All in all, THE HUMMING ROOM by Ellen Potter was a great little slice of middle-grade pie. Roo Fanshaw is everything I love about middle-grade heroines, and I loved how she slowly and quietly becomes comfortable in her uncle’s home. By the end of the book, she just FITS there, you know? And I LOVED the other characters, too. Jack and her teacher/maid/nanny/local girl, Violet, especially. SO awesome. I wish THE HUMMING ROOM had been a *teensy* bit longer, not only because I wanted to read more about Roo, but because I felt the end was just a touch quick. But, for me, Roo is reason enough to love this book. And love it I do.

6 Responses to “Book Review: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter”

  1. Katie March 16, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    What an awesome review! If I hadn’t already wanted to read The Humming Room, your enthusiasm would have convinced me for sure. Ellen Potter is my #1 Author-to-Read right now.

    • trippingbooks March 16, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      Oh, yay! This book was so great! It’s interesting because the story itself kind of unfolds slowly, but I read it very quickly because I couldn’t put it down. It was a strange sensation to be halfway through a book that I’m ZIPPING THROUGH and think to myself, “you know, I’m really loving this but not much has happened yet.” But then I realized that this is just one of those books that doesn’t need BIG THINGS going on to be awesome and THAT’S pretty sweet.

  2. Lisa March 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm #


  3. Heidi March 16, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Yay! I love seeing people love this book as much as I did. I found it absolutely charming and wonderful, and it’s certainly the best middle grade I’ve read so far this year. I loved all of the characters, and I LOVE when a setting is a character, and you’re right, this was the perfect setting. I loved that it was haunting and sad, and hopeful and wonderful all at the same time. Great review!

  4. Debbie Neil February 25, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    Loved the book. I found it because my grand-daughter read it in class, I know read it to my non-reader high school students. They have come to love these magic characters. I hope we continue to see writing like this to continue motivating readers.


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