When 12 year old Ophie and her mother are forced to leave Georgia, they move to Pittsburgh to Great-Aunt Rose, whose household already includes her son, his wife, and their three children. Tormented by her awful cousins, Ophie’s life gets even worse when her mother informs her that she must give up school and go to work as a maid for rich, bed-ridden Mrs Caruthers. Mrs Caruthers is a difficult and demanding old woman, and Ophie survives her first day thanks to the help of Clara, a beautiful young woman with flawless pale skin, wearing a fashionable blue dress, who appears in time to help Ophie get things right.
It’s only later that Ophie discovers that Clara is a former maid – and now a ghost. Confiding in Aunt Rose, Ophie learns that the ability to help ghosts move on to the next world has been a gift of the females in her family for generations. Aunt Rose, however, warns Ophie that haints are dangerous and should be avoided. But Ophie really wants to help Clara who was so kind to her, and thinks if she solves the mystery of Clara’s death, her friend will be able to pass on to the next life. Clara is not the only ghost in Daffodil Manor, however. There’s a little Black boy whose back is covered with scars, a slave from plantation days, but who refuses Ophie’s help, and then there are various members of the Caruthers family who continue to haunt their old home. Ghosts are drawn to those who can communicate with them, and Ophie’s gift draws a lot of them. Can Ophie help them or will she discover that Great-Aunt Rose is right and engaging with ghosts is dangerous?
This story had me hooked right from the start, with one of the best opening scenes I’ve read this year. I have a couple of minor questions around the plot and the setting, and I would preferred if the POV had stayed with Ophie the entire time (it diverts the odd time to the house or the attic or the city ghosts), but neither spoiled my enjoyment of the story, and I’m sure many readers will really enjoy this shift of perspective.
Part ghost story, part murder mystery, part horror, and part historical novel, there’s a lot to love in this story. It opens with a bang and keeps your interest right to an exciting finish. It’s set post World War One, sometime in the 1920’s, with society divided along lines of wealth, class, skin colour and ethnic background, the city’s segregation clearly depicted in Ophie’s trip to the movie theatre, as well as being a key story element. Ophie is a lovely character, who, in the midst of hardship, tries her best to do her duty, endures a huge burden, and is moved to help others. I also really liked the other characters, living and dead. I could say a lot more about it but I don’t want to give any spoilers, so suffice it to say I also love the cover.
All in all, this book surely has huge kid appeal, and (a slightly orange-cast) TOTP and I heartily recommend it and award nine diamonds out of ten