Length: 9 hr, 8 min
Reader: Kara Shallenberg
The book: Left an orphan in India after a cholera epidemic, Mary Lennox goes to live with an uncle in the British countryside. Neither the uncle nor his housekeeper show much interest in raising the child, so she wanders about the enormous old house and grounds. Mary is spoiled and rude, but she is also inquisitive. Soon her explorations uncover two secrets. The first is the secret garden of the book's title, which influences a change in her character. The second secret involves mysterious noises in a shut-off wing of the house, which draws her in to further investigations.
Throughout the book, Burnett succeeds better at creating moods rather than weaving a plot. The atmosphere of mystery and oppression, then later joy and light, are the trade-off for a slow-moving story. Much of the novel is blatantly sentimental, with good deeds, fresh air and kindness overcoming all problems in the end. To her credit, Burnett avoids the mistake of making the child characters into either perfect angels or little adults, but places them somewhere in between. Giving Mary a unpleasant disposition, but a bright mind, rescues her from being an unsympathetic character and makes this a children's classic.
The reader: Kara Shallenberg is one of Librivox's most prolific readers and is a wonderful example of the enthusiastic amateur spirit of the Librivox project. This is not a professional reading. Don't start listening with that expectation or you'll be disappointed. Instead what you get is Kara's bright voice over a background that can include bumps, passing trucks, and singing birds. Kara's accent is American with a slight sing-song delivery that made me feel as if I was sitting cross-legged at the local library's story time. The overall effect is not that of an actor performing in a sterile sound booth, but of a friend sharing a book that she obviously loves.