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Donn Kushner.
Toronto, ON: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1990.
214pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 0-88619-288-9. Distributed by Key Porter Books. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Underground railroad-Fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14

Reviewed by B. Henley.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

Donn Kushner's fourth book for young people is a fascinating read, full of a wealth of historical information woven throughout the plot.

The House of the Good Spirits takes place just outside Kingston, Ontario, during the present. Amos, his mother and father (who are both doctors), and his great aunt Naomi have just arrived from Nigeria to spend a year. One of few black families in the town, their presence creates curiosity, and Amos is subjected to some ridicule in his new school. However, Amos soon becomes familiar with two or three of the town's more eccentric individuals, who share with him stories of the town's past.

He learns first hand from old Mr. Prewitt about the rum runners who used to smuggle spirits across Lake Ontario to the United States during Prohibition. He also learns the fascinating story of the slaves who attempted to escape into Canada after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the U.S. in 1850. In the past, both of these groups used the same site for their activities - originally as a church haven for fugitive slaves, and later as a house used to store liquor. It is in this house, many years later, that the main part of the story unfolds as Amos enters its "haunted" interior.

At this point, the story becomes spellbinding. Amos enters another dimension and meets many of the characters from the past he has just learned about. In this world, the House of the Good Spirits is a purgatory for a group of people, including some slaves who drowned in Lake Ontario on their route to freedom. With the help of Amos and the wisdom he has learned from African folk-tales told to him by his Aunt Naomi, the group of spirits manages to journey on to their final destination.

The story deals not only with prejudice and conflict (in the U.S. Civil War, the War of 1812, Nazi Germany during World War II, the civil war in Biafra, and even in Amos' new schoolyard) but also with tolerance and understanding gained through wisdom. The treatment of these themes is very imaginative. As complex as the plot may sound, the story unfolds easily and flows smoothly.

The House of the Good Spirits will appeal to a wide range of people, but especially to students in grades 7 to 10.

B. Henley, Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School, Brantford, ON.
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