CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 28. . . .March 31, 2017
Ghosts in the Garden.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2017.
167 pp., trade pbk., PDF, EPUB & Kindle, $10.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55050-905-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55050-906-9 (PDF), ISBN 978-1-55050-907-6 (EPUB), ISBN 978-1-55050-908-3 (Kindle).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Ruth Latta.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"What a beautiful shawl. Thank you, everyone." Mrs. McNab wrapped a gold-threaded white shawl around her shoulders and sashayed for them.
Lieutenant Governor McNab tugged on his new fur-lined leather gloves. "Now we can have a proper snowball fight," he said, with a hoot of laughter...
Watching the scene, J.J. felt a warm glow. Beside her, Sam gave a contented sigh....
J.J. gaped at the table laden with sweets. She spied flower shaped shortbread cookies with shiny silver candy centres and lacy brandy snaps like her great-grandmother used to make.
"Look, there are the gingerbread cookies," Sam said. "Just like Mrs. Gowdy said....How wonderful it is to see how things actually were back then."
J.J. agreed. "Too bad we can't stay longer."
Sam glanced at J.J. "Your face is all flushed and blotchy. We have to get you home to bed."
"If we're lucky enough to get back," J.J. said, standing up and grabbing Sam's hand. She gave same a quick glance, and without waiting for a response, said, "Alice and Lily."
Nothing happened. J.J. gave Sam a shocked look. "Oh, no."
J.J. felt a quiver of fear run up her back to the top of her neck. She had no idea how to get home. Were they going to be trapped in the past after all? What were they going to do?"
"Tales of Historical Hauntings", a series in Metro Regina newspaper (October 2012) included an article about the ghosts that are said to haunt Saskatchewan's Government House, now a period museum which also houses the offices of the lieutenant governor. "A misplaced chair rotates when a guide goes upstairs, people hear footsteps pacing on the second floor hallways, and a tablecloth gets repeatedly thrown on the floor. All seem like little occurrences," wrote reporter Alyssa McDonald. "That is, until you combine them into a pattern."
In Ghosts in the Garden, author Judith Silverthorne refers to the ghost of chef Cheun Lee, who died in 1938. He appeared in Silverthorne's 2011 novel, Ghosts of Government House, in which co-protagonists and ghost-hunters J.J. and Samantha, both age 10, were introduced to readers. In the first book, the club to which the girls belong is on an evening tour of the museum when they hear mysterious footsteps. Subsequently they meet people in period garb who do not seem to be museum staff. The presence of ghosts, unnerving at first, is comforting to two characters in the novel who have lost loved ones.
Ghosts in the Garden is a similarly gentle ghost story, one in which J.J. and Sam slip from the present into past eras. This time travel is a source of dramatic tension and comedy, occurring inadvertently early on when the girls happen to say certain names. The plot involves a lost object that belonged to George Watt, who really lived, serving as landscape designer of Government House's Edwardian gardens.
In this second novel, the girls are at the Government House museum with their class, working on posters for a contest and class credit. When they stray from the activities room to go exploring, they meet a man in Edwardian clothing who introduces himself as George Watt. At first, he is not clear that J.J. and Sam are "lassies" because they are wearing trousers - jeans, but he treats them kindly and takes them to the basement to see the mushrooms he is growing. When they ask, he tells them that the year is 1903, though he can't understand them not knowing that. Whispering together, the girls say that no one will believe that they have met George Watt, and they are immediately catapulted back into the 21st century. Eventually they realize that saying certain names aloud is the triggering factor that shifts them to and fro in time.
Watt is not the only ghost they see; a woman in a 1930s-style blue flowered dress appears on their next visit. Curious about the past, they learn that a former employee at Government House in the 1930s and '40s now lives in a nearby retirement residence and might share her memories. Visiting Mrs. Gowdy there, they have another sighting of the woman in the blue flowered dress, and she mouths the word "watch." Mrs. Gowdy's reminiscences, photos and personal encounters with this apparition are key to the girls solving the mystery.
At one point, I thought that the elderly Mrs. Gowdy, nearing the end of her earthly sojourn, might be transported back in time to her youth, but this does not happen. The charm and suspense lie in the girls' abrupt transitions from past to present, and vice versa. Charming as well are the glimpses into life in bygone times. The novel deserves praise for encouraging positive relationships between young people and older adults, and for depicting girls as active people having adventures. Wise advice is conveyed through Mrs. Gowdy when she says, "Doing your best is all that you can do. It's the attempt that's important, not the outcome."
In addition to a map of the Government House gardens, the novel includes an introduction by Her Honour Vaughn Solomon Schofield, Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan, whose offices are in the north wing of Government House. Lieutenant-Governor Schofield praises Judith Silverthorne for bringing historical figures to life. Ghosts in the Garden, she says, has caused her to look over her shoulder a few times, especially when working late at night.
Ruth Latta's novel, Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, email@example.com) brings historical figures to life, but involves no ghosts.
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