I’m all for edgy YA and dark, boundary-pushing middle-grade fiction. But there are times when I yearn for a sweetly simple childhood adventure with a touch of magic—the kind of book you curl up with on the couch, wrapped in a cozy throw with a warm cup of tea in hand, feeling like the kid you were when you first ventured to Narnia and Middle Earth. In such moments, only a book like Tom’s Midnight Garden will do.
Tom is bummed to be spending the summer quarantined at his childless relatives’ dull, gardenless flat while his brother is ill. The sole point of interest is the landlady’s ancient grandfather clock, which chimes to a time of its own (much to Tom’s uncle’s chagrin). But soon the restless Tom discovers a secret: that he can slip out the door in the middle of the night and into another time, when the house had a vast, beautiful garden full of trees to climb and games to play. The only person who can see Tom during these excursions is a lonely little girl named Hatty. Despite the fact that each of them suspects the other to be a ghost, the two become fast friends.
The book plods sleepily along for the first two thirds. It’s not until the final act, when Tom begins to realize that time is moving much faster for Hatty than it is for him, that the story’s true magic begins to bloom.
Like many of its ilk, Tom’s Midnight Garden features a portal to a special world and has a mystery at its center (adults and astute children will spot the “twist” from a mile away, though this won’t make the ending less enjoyable), but the heart of the story at last lies more in what it has to say about childhood and friendship, memory and time.