The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is one of my all time favorite books. I love every sappy second of it. I love the characters and the scenery and the mystery and, most of all the happy ending. I worry that times technology moves so fast these days that modern children can't even begin to appreciate this book. That would be just too sad to contemplate.
Mary Lennox is a young girl who has been virtually ignored by her parents and spoiled by the house staff, all of whom despise her, but feel they are duty bound to obey her. When a cholera epidemic strikes, most of the household is wiped out. Those not affected fled to save their own lives, leaving Mary, barely older than a toddler, behind, alone.
She is passed onto a family that takes her in for a while, until she is sent from India to England to live with her uncle, still mourning the loss of his wife, Mary's mother's sister. Once again she is ignored by her family and despised by the staff forced to obey her. However, a kind housekeeper, a sick boy who is just as much of a brat as Mary and fresh air and sunshine all come together to make things, and people, blossom. Mary takes to a young housekeeper and makes her first friend, learns about family, before finally learning about and understanding her own.
Her uncle has taken her in and he's given her quarters of her own and freedom to roam the grounds. But, he's also rarely at home, has no intention of spending any time with her and makes a good deal of the house off limits to her. It seems he lost his very beautiful wife and love and now can barely summon up the desire to live himself. He travels for the most part, returning home rarely.
Mary, in her time playing in the yard (under duress, at first) discovers a secret garden that has been sealed off. Apparently, it was her aunt and uncle's favorite place. However, the aunt was killed when a branch she was sitting on broke. She was pregnant at the time with Colin, who Mary discovers is alive and miserable and has been right there in the house with her, all along.
Together Mary and Colin grow and bloom along with their garden. Both become better people physically and emotionally. They also make it possible for the uncle to return to the world and to live again. This is one of those sickeningly sweet books that has to be a classic. You find yourself slowly growing to adore sour little Mary and her improvement is infectious. The entire book goes from cold, gray English winter and the cold gray house to the renewal of life that spring represents, overflowing its normal boundaries, finally bringing life to Mary and her sad broken British relations.