________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005


The Path Through the Trees.

Peggy Dymond Leavey.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon Publishing, 2005. 131 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-894917-21-9.

Subject Headings:
Ghost stories.
Christmas stories.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Carole Marion.

*** /4



What is great-aunt Caroline hiding? It's obvious she doesn't want Norah to spend Christmas with her in her isolated Ontario mansion. Well, Norah doesn't want to be there either. The original plans were for Norah and her mom to visit the elderly relative that neither of them had met before; however, that was before her mother was called away on business and sent Norah ahead of her, promising to arrive before Christmas.

This place was not what Norah had imagined when her mother had promised Christmas in the country. She had pictured a rambling house of white clapboard, a wide, welcoming verandah, coloured light strung from gingerbread trim, a wreath in every lighted window. And snow, of course.

“Well, this is it,” the cabbie announced, opening the back door of the car.

Norah emerged from the taxi an inch at a time, looking up at the gloomy house, its chimney wrapped in fog.

There was no verandah, no front porch of any kind, and no lights beckoning from the unfriendly windows. In fact, the place looked deserted. In the trees to the left, Norah spotted a detached garage with old-fashioned, wooden doors.

After deposing the suitcase on the stone step, the driver got back into the cab and splashed away again down the lane, without even waiting to see if anyone answered the door.

Norah had just about decided that no one was home and was half-hoping that they weren't, when the big front door swung suddenly inward.

“Come inside,” an icy voice commanded. “Don't just stand there. You're letting in the rain.”


Caroline is her father's aunt, and her optimistic mother is forever trying to smooth the path for everyone. Why wouldn't her father's aunt want to know her great-niece better? Why would anyone prefer a solitary, quiet Christmas instead of a lively family gathering? At least, Norah is trying the make the best of it, offering to help with housework and meals, and coaxing her great-aunt into conversations that Caroline always cuts short. But Norah's patience finally runs thin after all her friendly overtures fail.


“Your mother called again after you went outside,” she announced. “Seems your cousins are coming tomorrow.”

“All right!” Immediately, Norah was aware of her aunt's unsmiling face. “I mean, is that okay with you?”

“Eventually, they'll all arrive, won't they?” Aunt Caroline said. “So it doesn't much matter when.”

Norah felt the sudden prickle of perspiration in her palms and under her arms. Her aunt's rudeness always took her by surprise. Surely, the woman realized how hard she was making the visit for both of them.

Aunt Caroline always spoke her mind, with no thought of how it might hurt someone's feelings. Now Norah decided it was her turn to speak up. She clenched her hands behind her back, confident that the worst that could happen would be that she'd be sent packing.

“Aunt Caroline, it's not hard to tell that you don't like me being here.” She swallowed, her pulse pounding in her ears. “I'm really sorry that Mom dumped me off on you like this. She shouldn't have. It was sort of, of …” She ran out of words.

“Presumptuous?” Aunt Caroline offered, one eyebrow rained.

“Yes, I guess so. She shouldn't have figured just because we were related that you'd want us here. But that's the way my Mom is. I can't do much about it, now that I am here. Mom was just so happy to find out about you, she figured you'd feel the same way about us. I can see that she was wrong. If there was any way that I could leave, I would.”

There, she'd said it. Now it was Aunt Caroline's turn.

For what seemed like a long time, Great-aunt Caroline did not say anything …

“You have more spunk than I gave you credit for,” the woman said, at last.


The past plays a crucial part in this story, especially for Norah whose father died when she was a baby as well as for her eccentric great-aunt, who has shut herself away from the outside world because of some mystery that took place years ago. Norah is desperate to know more about the father she never knew. Great-aunt Caroline could tell her so much about his childhood – his favourite food, what he liked to read, the sports he played. There is so much that her mother doesn't know, and since her father lived for some time with his aunt, surely Caroline would not mind sharing her thought. But Great-aunt Caroline wants to leave the past buried, much to Norah's frustration.

     The only thing that softens her cantankerous aunt's countenance is her collection of birdhouses. They clutter her backyard, and Caroline makes sure the seeds are replenished daily. It's when Norah looks out the window at these birdhouses that she sees Jody for the first time, a boy about her age that no one else can see. There is a mystery here, a connection between Caroline's past and to her beloved birdhouses. Norah is determined to unravel the mystery.

     Peggy Dymond Leavey's well-crafted mystery is her sixth for young readers. Her strength lies in developing characters that are multi-layered, yet endearing to the reader. This brief story plays on the reader's emotions. Its conclusion brings empathy for a cantankerous old woman who is quite endearing, after all.



Carole Marion is a Public Service Librarian with Calgary Public Library's Shawnessy Branch. She has been working with youth and their caregivers for over sixteen years.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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