Karuna Riazi has a way with words. In this deft reimagining of The Secret Garden, she blends lyrical prose and poetry, crafts a heartfelt plot, and develops characters you want to root for. This story will find its way into your heart.” — Tae Keller, winner of the Newbery Medal for When You Trap a Tiger
"Extraordinary, poetic, and inventive. A Bit of Earth is such a special book. Prickles and all, Maria Latif captured my whole heart." — Jasmine Warga, author of Newbery Honor book Other Words for Home
“An ambitious re-envisioning of a long beloved classic, this book is sure to be a big hit.” — Padma Venkatraman, award winning author of The Bridge Home
“Riazi has not just reimagined The Secret Garden. In a delicate blend of poetry and prose, she's also crafted a wide-open window into the heart of every 'unlikable' child who ever lived. I recognized the main character immediatelyadrift and hardened, messy and hurt and realer than realand loved her on every page of this book. As timeless as it is timely, A Bit of Earth is a rare gift.” — Laurel Snyder, author of National Book Award nominee Orphan Island
“A Bit of Earth embodies its titles perfectly. Here is a book that offers a place for readers to bury their fears into and see what beauty unfurls from the space. Riazi's prose is concise and lyrical, and Maria Latif is the prickly bud that astounds everyone when she's finally given the opportunity to bloom." — Roshani Chokshi, New York Times–bestselling of Aru Shah and the End of Time
“Beautiful! Simply beautiful! My heart needed this gorgeous and modern re-imagining of The Secret Garden!" — Ellen Oh, author of Finding Junie Kim
“A sweet and warm-hearted tale with unforgettable characters.” — Aisha Saeed, bestselling author of Amal Unbound
“Karuna Riazi has taken the seeds of an old story and produced something moving, exquisite, and thoroughly new. Readers will root for Maria, whose spirit is both fiery and tender; she leapt off the page and into my heart. Quietly magical and powerfully real, A Bit of Earth gorgeously captures the uncertainty and delight of coming of age—new friendships, the longing to fit in and find family, and the richness of recognizing all the possibilities for a full and rich life. A soul-filling treasure!” — Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Operation Sisterhood
“A contemporary re-envisioning of The Secret Garden . . . Found family is a central theme as Maria struggles to find a place she can truly call home. . . . Her Desi identity is represented authentically via foods, scents, clothing/dupatta, prayers, and mehndi, and the . . . hybrid prose/verse format provides a narrative that feels genuine, raw, and allows readers into the minds of the characters. . . . Destined to be a new classic, this refreshing of the canon is long overdue.” — School Library Journal (starred review)
“A contemporary, multicultural rendition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, The Secret Garden. . . .Riazi flavors her rendition with heavy doses of cultural references, nostalgic trappings of the people and practices that Maria left behind and then learns anew in the Bangladeshi diaspora on Long Island. . . . A nice difference from The Secret Garden is the presence of a larger sense of community and adults who are held accountable for their actions. Mary had Colin and Ben (and the robin), but Maria gains quite a gaggle of friends and family.” — Booklist
“Roots, both tangible and intangible, come together in this coming-of-age story. . . . This retelling of The Secret Garden offers an interesting twist on the classic’s colonial, racist tone. It opens with promise as the evocative text highlights Maria’s grief, isolation, and resignation at being cast adrift. Each character has their own story arc that is explored even as Maria finds ways of becoming her own person. . . . This book tackling hefty themes will grow on readers.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A foreboding feeling permeates this mystery-driven novel, a The Secret Garden retelling. . . . Chapters alternate experiential free-verse poetry with a third-person narrative as Maria excavates the garden’s past and her own isolation in this thoughtful, emotionally honest take on the source material.” — Publishers Weekly
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.—Lisa Krok
Roots, both tangible and intangible, come together in this coming-of-age story.
Maria Latif is used to being defined by others as unpleasant, ungrateful, and ill-mannered, but it’s a veneer to protect herself. Grappling with the grief of being orphaned, she is now being shunted from relatives in Pakistan to live with her late parents’ friends in the U.S. All she has left is a pocketful of words that take the shape of verses interspersed between the prose, giving glimpses into her feelings and thoughts. Maria finds herself in Long Island with Mr. and Mrs. Clayborne, a strange couple cued as White. They live in an even stranger house with secrets and taboos. There’s also Mr. Clayborne’s biracial son, taciturn Colin Clayborne, whose mother, Saira, passed away. But then a bright green gecko leads Maria to a secret garden—and the possibility of friends. Despite knowing it’s off limits, Maria begins to revitalize this mysterious garden, turning the soil, finding new life, and discovering possibilities. This retelling of The Secret Garden offers an interesting twist on the classic’s colonial, racist tone. It opens with promise as the evocative text highlights Maria’s grief, isolation, and resignation at being cast adrift. Each character has their own story arc that is explored even as Maria finds ways of becoming her own person. While the book sags toward the middle, it explores themes of home, belonging, identity, and humans’ intrinsic connection to nature.
This book tackling hefty themes will grow on readers. (Fiction. 9-13)