"Emmie stopped, rubbing her fingers over the smooth metal. would it open? Would she be able to get inside without the key? She stood hesitating, trails of ivy draped over and around her, not quite daring to turn the handle in case she was still shut out."
I read a few reviews of Return to the secret garden and some admitted they had not read the original book. I guess Return to the secret garden can stand alone but really the reading of this 'sequel' is so much richer with a good knowledge of the original book by Frances Hodgson Burnett published in 1911.
Holly Webb sets up all sort of parallels in her book that match with the original story not the least is Misselthwaite Manor itself.
Mary is an orphan so is Emmie. While we do know what happened to Mary in India Holly Webb never reveals why Emmie is an orphan or how she came to be living in a London children's home.
Mary is lonely and bad tempered and confused. Emmie is evacuated from London to Misselthwaite Manor. She is one of the older children from the home but the two boys who are of a similar age are not her 'friends.' They tease her and call her names. Emmie is always getting into trouble and it seems grown ups will never answer her questions. Her only friend is a little black cat but he has been left behind in London. Emmie is so worried he will be killed either by gas or bombs or even the adults who are putting animals down.
Mary makes friends with a little robin and he shows her the key and the way into the secret garden. Another robin (perhaps the great grandfather of the first) also shows Emmie how to find the door to the garden.
Mary hears a boy crying in the night and discovers Colin - they boy who will become her friend. Emmie also hears crying. It is a boy called Jack, he is the son of Mrs Craven who owns Misselthwaite Manor.
Mary is helped in the garden by a local boy called Dickon. Emmie is helped by one of the garden staff - a man called Mr Sowerby. He has been wounded in WWI and his face and legs are damaged but in spite of his gruff manner he understands little Emmie is in need of love and gentle care.
Holly Webb does capture the moment of discovery in the same magical way of the original :
"She wandered breathlessly under the arches, reaching up every so often to touch a rose, laughing as they shed their petals on her face and shoulders. The summer had been long and hot and many of the roses had finished flowering already, with just the odd late blossom left here and there, but Emmie found it hard to believe there could be more flowers ... a great mass of lilies, so strongly scented that she could almost see the perfume in the air."
Emmie knows about Mary, Colin and Dickon because she finds three diaries in her room. Over the course of the next months she reads these diaries and gradually discovers the true identity of Mrs Craven, her husband Lieutenant Craven and old Mr Sowerby and just like in the original she comes to a better understanding of herself, her place in the world and the important ways to show you are a true friend.
At the back of my copy of Return to the Secret garden there is an interview with Holly Webb and she mentions The Painted garden by Noel Stretfeild - this is long out of print but I think I will try to find a copy.
I also recommend you read The Humming Room as another way to explore the themes and plot of the classic book The Secret Garden. You might also enjoy Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, Vinnie's war, and Children of the King.