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Book Reviews, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Middle Grade Readers

THE HUMMING ROOM by Ellen Potter

By Ellen PotterThe Humming Room is the story of Roo Fanshaw.  When we meet Roo in the opening pages of the book she is crouched underneath her family’s trailer, hiding.  Although Roo is twelve years old she is very small for her age and we learn almost immediately from Roo herself that hiding is what she does best.

In the first chapter Roo is hiding from the police who have come to take her to foster care in the wake of her father’s death.  A man long involved in illegal activities and the drug trade he has been murdered and Roo knows of no other family.  Discovered by the Officer who enters the trailer–with the help of a neighbor–Roo is told she has an uncle who is quite well-off and willing to take her in.

Roo’s difficult life has taught her to be skeptical of everyone and everything.  When she is finally brought to her uncle’s home on Cough Rock–so named because it was originally a tuberculosis sanitarium for children–she is suspicious of her uncle, the few people who are in residence and the river in which the island is situated.

The grim Ms. Valentine who is sent to bring Roo to her new home does nothing to inspire her confidence in her new surroundings.  Forbidden to go into the East Wing of the house Roo explores the abandoned dormitories of the sick children who were once housed there when the house was a hospital.  She is convinced she hears a strange humming from within the walls, and sometimes crying too.  Violet, the other servant in the house, comes upon Roo during her explorations and tells her legends about sea creatures and folk who live in the river as well as the gossip from the nearby town of Clayton regarding her uncle and the many ghostly secrets of Cough Rock.

Roo begins to spend her days roaming the island.  A lover of nature and living creatures, Roo is gradually transfixed by the wonder and beauty of the river and its community of nature.  Then a strict, shrewd tutor/nanny is hired to watch Roo.  When Roo can no longer tolerate this suffocating circumstance she unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events will both reveal the secrets of Cough Rock and her uncle and change everyone whose lives they touch forever.

Although most of the characters in the story are stock characters (ones we see repeatedly in ghost and fantasy stories) Roo is unique.  Her depth of insight and emotion are revealed ingeniously by the author and are captivating to the reader.  The book is worth reading just to experience Roo’s character.

The first chapter hooks the reader, but the next three are full of a LOT of description that will be difficult for younger readers to plod through.  The pace picks up once again about the 5th or 6th chapter and the reader can settle in.  Personally I was disappointed in the way the ending was handled.  The end of Chapter 19 is this unbelieveable crescendo of events and emotions and then I felt like the author abruptly dropped me on my head in Chapter 20; her Uncle does not speak or behave in any way that reflects the character that has been created and maintained for the preceding 19 chapters.  Chapter 21 is just a footnote to the anticlimactic conclusion.

I did like The Humming Room in general and LOVED Roo’s character specifically.  I did also feel the events of the ending were appropriate (if predictable) to the story.  I just feel the author let her readers down in the way she got there.

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