The Secret Garden is a great and magical book. If you're having trouble remembering the first twenty chapters, here's a summary.
We meet Mary Lennox. She's an eleven-year-old living in India. We learn that her dad works for the English government and that her mom did not "want a daughter at all." Mary was raised mostly by domestic workers. To keep her "out of the way," the workers gave Mary "her own way in everything."
An outbreak of cholera strikes the Indian village where Mary and her parents live. They don't leave right away because Mary's mom wanted to stay and attend a dinner party. The choice to remain is fatal. Cholera kills Mary's mom, dad, and nanny. Now, Mary is an orphan.
All alone, Mary hides in her nursery, where she alternately cries and sleeps. When she leaves the nursery, she sees a snake. Finally, she's discovered by British officers.
Mary goes to live with a poor English clergyman who has five kids. None of them like Mary very much. They make up this mean rhyme about her:
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And marigolds all in a row.
One of the children, Basil, tells Mary that she is about to go to England to live with her uncle. The uncle’s name is Archibald Craven. Basil tells Mary that her uncle’s is a “hunchback” and “horrid.”
In London, Mary meets Craven’s housekeeper Mrs. Medlock. The two don’t get along. Mrs. Medlock tells Mary that Craven’s wife died and that most of the rooms in the big house are closed.
When Mary arrives at her uncle’s house, which is called Misselthwaite Manor, a manservant informs Mary that Craven does not want to see her. Mary is sent to her room. She’s warned not to go exploring the big house.
In her first morning at Misselthwaite Manor, Mary has a puzzling interaction with Martha, another servant. Martha is unlike the servants in India who “did not presume to talk to their masters as if they were equals.”
After awkwardly helping Mary get dressed, Martha tells Mary about her younger brother Dickon and his pony. She also tells Mary about a “locked up” garden that has not been entered in ten years.
When Mary spots a robin on a tree, she believes the tree is in the “secret garden.”
Time flies. Mary spends her days eating and exploring the moors. The outdoor activity makes her stronger and healthier.
Mary sees the robin again.
Martha tells Mary more about the secret garden and how it belonged to Craven’s wife. Craven and his wife used to spend lots of time in it: they read, talked, and cared for the flowers.
Rain keeps Mary inside and leads her to investigate the closed rooms. During her illicit exploration, she starts to hear a “fretful, childish whine.”
Martha goes to visit her family. Mary runs into the robin again. This time, the robin leads her to a key “almost buried in the newly-turned soil.”
Martha comes back. She tells Mary how much her family liked the stories she told them about Mary. She also gives Mary a present from Martha’s mom: a skipping rope.
Later, while Mary is skipping away, a powerful gust of wind blows away some of the ivy on a nearby wall. Mary pulls away more ivy and discovers a door.
Mary enters the secret garden and she expresses her hope that there are some things still living in it. Later, Mary asks Martha for some tools to help her garden. Then Mary hears those strange cries again.
Mary and Ben Weatherstaff, the Misselthwaite Manor gardner, become closer, as Mary asks him for gardening tips.
Mary then meets Martha’s younger brother, Dickon, who gives him the seeds and tools that Martha had told him to get. Mary tells Dickon about the garden she discovered.
Mary and Dickon start working on the garden. Many of the plants are still alive. Dickon is quite impressed with Mary’s knowledge of gardening.
Mary tells Martha how much she likes Dickon. She also meets Craven. Craven is not the “horrid” man Basil told her about. When she asks for more earth to help with her gardening, Craven complies.
There is a storm in the middle of the night. Mary awakes and hears more crying. She follows the cries, which lead her to the room of a sickly boy in a gigantic bed. The boy is Craven’s son. He’s ten years old, and his name is Colin. Craven does not like how ill he is, so he conceals him from the world.
Mary tells Martha about her discovery of Colin. Their relationship surprises Martha, as Colin is usually quite angry and antisocial when it comes to people.
Mary and Colin talk more. They speak about death. Colin says that everyone thinks he will die. When Mrs. Medlock and Colin’s uncle enter the room, Mary and Colin are laughing and having a good time. Colin says he likes Mary because she makes him think about other things besides feeling sick.
Mary thinks of how she might get Colin out of the house and into the garden, which is now blooming because it’s spring. She also talks to Dickon about her growing friendship with Colin. Both think bringing Colin to the garden and having him see all the life will make him want to live.
Mary and Colin fight due to the time Mary spends with Dickon instead of Colin. Colin calls Dickon “a common cottage boy.”
Returning to her room, Mary thinks about her quarrel with Colin. She considers his sickly state and decides to give him another chance.
In the night, Mary is startled out of her sleep due to Colin’s cries. At the request of Colin’s nurse, Mary goes into Colin’s room and yells at him to stop screaming. Colin tells Mary that he’s scared he might be developing a hunchback. Mary tells Colin he’s being foolish.
Mary informs Dickon of Colin’s late-night screams. Both resolve to bring Colin into the garden.
Dr. Craven does not want Colin to go outside, but Colin is adamant about venturing outdoors. Later, Dickon comes to visit Colin. With him, are a host of animals, including a fox, a crow, and squirrels.
Cold weather and wind prevent the trio from seeing the garden. Soon, the weather gets better and Colin, in a wheelchair, is finally able to go outside.
“I shall get well!” declares Colin. “I shall live forever and ever and ever!”