Sweet, gentle little book about a girl struggling with loneliness and anxiety. Her mother is having a difficult pregnancy and bedridden with illness, her father is always working in his study, and they’ve recently moved to a new house, with a new school where Tilly doesn’t have any friends. It’s a lot. She explores the old house a bit, but spends most of her time outside in the yard. Then Tilly sees a fox run through a gap in the fence, and follows it into an unkempt, overgrown garden behind their property. This becomes her secret place, where she builds a little hideout and often sits quietly hoping to see the fox. She sneaks out there at night. And meets a girl named Helen in the garden, who becomes her friend.
But- is Helen real? I started to suspect a few chapters in that there was something more to this story. First I thought Helen might be a ghost, then perhaps magical, a fairy? It turns out to be a bit more mundane- Tilly is sleepwalking, and Helen is imaginary. As the story progresses, things slowly change. Mother seems to take a turn for the worst, spending the end of her pregnancy in the hospital. Tilly’s anxiety is heightened, but her grandmother comes to stay, infusing the house with cheerful activity. She’s given an unoffical mental health break from school for a few days, and when she goes back there’s a new girl in class the teacher introduces her to. As Tilly finds relief from her fears (her mother returns home in good health, with the new baby) and makes a new friend at school, gaining some confidence by being asked to help someone else in need, her attachment to Helen in the garden starts to dissipate. She’s okay now.
I actually liked that this story took me by surprise, making me read between the lines. Some things are subtle enough in here that a younger reader might not pick up on it, and just enjoy the magical feeling of the story. I couldn’t help thinking of Tom’s Midnight Garden while reading this, of course- and also The Secret Garden. The Midnight Fox is also mentioned in this book, and there’s an unmistakable nod to Charlotte’s Web as well. Also, I found this second cover image online- apparently the book had a title change. I like the current title better, but the fox cover more closely matches the books’ interior illustrations by Paul Howard, which are gentle and lovely.
Borrowed from the public library.