A Bit of Earth

Greenwillow. Mar. 2023. 368p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063098664.
Gr 4-8–This contemporary reenvisioning of The Secret Garden features Maria Latif, a Pakistani-Bangladeshi Muslim girl. Orphaned after her parents’ accident, Maria has been labeled difficult and is bounced from house to house. She is dispatched to stay with a friend of her father’s on Long Island, but arrives to find he is away on business and she is in the care of his second wife Lyndsay, his judgmental mother, and indifferent son, Colin. Exploring the grounds to escape the tense household, Maria discovers a locked gate and an old unkempt garden. With the help of new friends Mimi and Rick, Colin, and resources from Lyndsay, they collaborate to resurrect the garden that was originally cultivated by Colin’s deceased mother, Saira. Found family is a central theme as Maria struggles to find a place she can truly call home. The undertones of colonialism in the original version are changed appropriately. Maria’s character evolves, gently showing readers the coping skills she has developed to deal what she has been through, and how she is making new connections. Her Desi identity is represented authentically via foods, scents, clothing/dupatta, prayers, and mehndi, and the bit of earth she tends to brings up with memories of her parents. All of this provides comfort and familiarity. The hybrid prose/verse format provides a narrative that feels genuine, raw, and allows readers into the minds of the characters. A content warning is advised regarding the death of parents, racism, and colorism.
VERDICT Destined to be a new classic, this refreshing of the canon is long overdue.

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