Ghost's Child

( 4 )


This enchanting fable of a young woman and a wild boy is a haunting meditation on the nature of love and loss.

Maddy, an old lady now, arrives home one day to find a peculiar boy waiting for her. Over tea, she tells him the story of her life long ago, when she wished for her days to be as romantic and mysterious as a fairy tale. It was then that she fell painfully in love with a free spirit named Feather, who put aside his wild ways to live with her in a little cottage, ...

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This enchanting fable of a young woman and a wild boy is a haunting meditation on the nature of love and loss.

Maddy, an old lady now, arrives home one day to find a peculiar boy waiting for her. Over tea, she tells him the story of her life long ago, when she wished for her days to be as romantic and mysterious as a fairy tale. It was then that she fell painfully in love with a free spirit named Feather, who put aside his wild ways to live with her in a little cottage, conceived with her a child never to be born, and disappeared — leaving an inconsolable Maddy to follow after him on a fantastical journey across the sea. In a beautifully crafted tale, currently shortlisted for a 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize, Sonya Hartnett masterfully explores the mysteries of the heart, the sustaining power of memory, and the ultimate consolation that comes to souls who live fully and fearlessly.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Hartnett (Surrender) introduces an unlikely protagonist for a one-of-a-kind love story. When 75-year-old Matilda Victoria Adelaide, or Maddy, comes home to find a mysterious boy awaiting her, she thinks it "odd, but also somehow flattering, as when a stray cat chooses your house to call home." She tells him about her youth and about falling in love. Thus begins a tale that revels in profound questions ("How... does one craft sturdy happiness out of something as important, as complicated, as unrepeatable and as easily damaged as a life?"; "What is the world's most beautiful thing?"; is life "settling for what you can get, if you can't have what you really want?") and Maddy's tireless pursuit of their answers as they unfold through her relationship with Feather, a youth who captures her heart so totally that she is forever changed. Those who enjoy fables or magical realism will be spellbound by this redemptive story of a search for love, love lost and love (of a sort) found again. If the emotional distance created by the narrative frame proves a barrier for other readers, the exquisite prose may yet hold them. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Carlisle K. Webber
Matilda, raised by an understanding if distant father and a hypercritical mother, has traveled the world in search of beauty but ultimately finds it not far from home. Beauty and love come to her in the form of Feather, a man who is content to live on the beach and cannot stand any sort of cage. When Feather leaves her, Matilda sails the world to ask him a question. Upon learning the answer, Matilda knows she must make a new life for herself. She becomes a doctor and continues her global journey, and although time soothes the sorrow of losing Feather, she never forgets her first love or what he gave her. Using vivid descriptions and unusual words, Hartnett creates a fable recognizable to any reader of fairy tales. Reminiscent of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, this story of a princess, a quest, and the crumbling of a dream marriage addresses ideas of personal freedom and finding one's own peace. Matilda's environment, though obviously set right before World War II, has a once-upon-a-time veil of otherworldliness over it. Feather's impact on Matilda's life is at once seen and felt, and the ending will satisfy both those who want a happily-ever-after and those who like a tearjerker. Although the reader can finish this small book in a few hours, the impact of the story will last much longer. Reviewer: Carlisle K. Webber
KLIATT - Cara Chancellor
A blond boy with gray eyes was the last person Matilda expected to see on her settee when she returned from walking her dog. She suspects she knows why he's there, but seemingly his only interest is hearing about the time when Matilda was known as Maddy and loved a boy named Feather. As Matilda's tale unfolds, the reader tiptoes into a narrative so introspective and dream-like that one can never be sure at what point it becomes fantasy. Maddy's life holds love, loss, and a burning question that sent her on a quest over the waves…and now brings her back to her living room. The Ghost's Child is written in the ethereal, fluid style of a Virginia Woolf novel, in which the steam curling off a cup of tea seems as fantastical as speaking with the West Wind. Even so, Hartnett maintains a consistent pace throughout that banishes tedium and accepts unquestioningly the story's gradual immersion into fantasy. Both a cozy cottage read and a critical conundrum as to how much of Maddy's story transpires within her own mind, The Ghost's Child is a delightful tale that goes as deep as the reader is willing to look. Reviewer: Cara Chancellor
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Australian author Sonya Hartnett considers what makes life meaningful in this lovely, lyrical book. Is it love, beauty or deeds well done? We watch Maddy grow, in a big house bought by a successful industrialist, under the domination of a conventional and materialistic mother. Then, surprisingly, her father asks her "What is the most beautiful thing in the world?" Maddy cannot satisfactorily answer the question—the answer, from her father's point of view, is Maddy herself—and so their trip begins. But Maddy's true joy comes when she encounters a wild and mysterious boy on the beach near their house. She loves everything about him, and she eventually persuades her parents to let her marry. She and the fellow she calls "Feather" take up residence in the woods in a tiny cabin, surrounded only by nature; nevertheless, Feather seems to grow less alive every day. There is a brief reprise when Maddy becomes pregnant, but they suffer a crushing loss when she miscarries. Feather leaves, and Maddy sets sail, on her own, to find him. Her trip is a success, but the life of peace and solitude he has embraced on the Island of Stillness is not for her. Maddy returns home to become a nurse during the Great War and then, because she cannot imagine how awful it would be not to see the beauty of the world, a famous eye doctor. The story is told as reflection, to a 12-year-old boy who is waiting for Matilda one day when she and her dog return from their walk. He is the age she has most often imagined her lost child to be, and he has come to accompany the now aged Matilda on her final journey. Throughout the story, Maddy sails from what we conventionally call reality to imagined places—orare they? The language is beautiful, even poetic at times in its surprising and evocative turns of phrase and feeling. This is not a book for those seeking action-packed adventures, but will satisfy readers who like pondering the big questions. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up

Reality quickly gives way to fantastical fable in this story of an old woman who returns home from walking her dog to find a strange boy in her lounge room, where she gives him tea and tells him the story of her life. A lonely child of wealthy parents, Matilda/Maddy encounters a ragged, wild young man on the beach near her home. She names him Feather and they fall in love and conceive a child, but she miscarries. In trying to tame Feather, Maddy loses him, too, and, despairing, she attempts to drown herself in a pond, to be rescued by Feather, who then leaves for good. But Maddy learns to sail and embarks alone on a dangerous sea journey to find him, only to finally acknowledge that their fragile love cannot sustain a life together. Sailing back to her old life, she later becomes a doctor and humanitarian. As her story ends, it is apparent that the boy is her never-born child who has come to accompany her passing to the next world. Lyrical writing, heavy with visual imagery and touched with euphemism, creates an ethereal mood, but the story is not served well by the fantastical elements. Maddy's journey brings her face to face with talking sea creatures, a floating mosque, a battle between a kraken and a leviathan, and Zephyrus, who guides her to the savage island where she confronts Feather and the loss of love. Neither fish nor fowl, this romance may nevertheless find a readership with older fantasy lovers.-Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Kirkus Reviews
Told in gorgeous prose that reads more like poetry, the elderly Matilda relates the story of her life to a young boy she finds in her parlor one day. A sensitive child, she grew up distanced from her parents until her father, as a coming-of-age gift, took her on an extended tour of the world in search of the single most beautiful thing. After returning home, she eventually began an uncertain relationship with an unworldly young man she met on the beach; she appropriately named him Feather. He abandoned his wild ways and moved into a cottage with her, but was never capable of loving Maddy as she did him. She never lost her awareness that his nature was too ephemeral for a long-term love affair, marring her happiness. As readers move through this lush fable they may begin to get a sense of the real identity of the boy in Maddy's parlor. The relative brevity of the story belies the depth it encompasses; it's a richly crafted tale-within-a-tale, worthy of repeated reading. (Fiction. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763639648
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 517,960
  • Age range: 14 years
  • Lexile: 900L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Sonya Hartnett is the author of THURSDAY'S CHILD, WHAT THE BIRDS SEE, STRIPES OF THE SIDESTEP WOLF, THE SILVER DONKEY, and SURRENDER, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. She lives in Australia.

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Read an Excerpt

One damp silvery afternoon an old lady came home from walking her dog and found a boy sitting in her lounge room on the fl oral settee. The boy hadn’t been invited, so the old lady was surprised to see him. It wasn’t a large boy, and he looked annoyed and bored, as if he had been waiting for her for some time. The lounge room was cold, and the tip of his nose had turned softly pink, which made the old lady feel sorry for him. "Youshould have lit the fire," she said, and pressed a button and twisted a dial, causing flames to jump up like cancan dancers inside the silver chest of the heater. Her guest didn’t answer, but looked more aggrieved: beinga boy of a certain age, he had a taste for suffering manfully, and preferred not to be given advice. "Would you like a cup of tea?" she asked him. "I’m about to make a pot."

The boy thought for a moment; then said morosely, "Yes please."

The old lady was relieved to hear that he knew about please and thank you. At least he had some manners. She hung up her cardigan and went to the kitchen and filled the kettle with water. The kitchen was cleanand lined with green cupboards; on the speckled bench were rectangular tins for fl our and coffee and rice. On the windowsill was a posy of drooping fuchsias from the garden. Although she couldn’t see him, the oldlady knew that her curious visitor was still sitting on the settee, hands folded in his lap, waiting and watching for her. She tried not to wonder what he intended to do or say. She determined to keep her thoughts veryblank, so she wouldn’t race ahead of him or turn a wrong corner in her mind. She couldn’t help smiling at the thought of him seated so casually in her lounge room. It was odd, and also somehow fl attering, as when a stray cat chooses your house to call home.

While the kettle boiled she busied herself putting biscuits on a plate and pouring milk into a jug; while the tea was brewing she dressed the pot in its cozy for warmth; then carried the pot, the cups, the jug, the sugar bowl and the biscuits into the lounge on a tray.

The boy was sitting on the verge of his seat and looking down at the dog, who sat by the heater staring intently back at him. The dog was small and longlegged, with a rough coat the color of winter and treacle- colored eyes, and a spiky mustache of wet whiskers after rummaging in the grass. "What’s your dog’s name?" the boy asked, without glancing up.

The old lady — whose name was Matilda — put the tray on the little glass table that stood between the chairs, and poured the tea into porcelain cups. "His name is Peake," she said. "Do you take sugar?"

"What sort of dog is he?"

The tea flowed fragrantly from the teapot’s spout, the color of conifer sap. "The proper sort, I suppose. He quarrels with cats and chats with strangers and keeps himself clean. He buries bones and keeps tabs on his enemies and sleeps under my bed. That sort of dog."

Rather sharply, as if he detested having to explain himself, the boy said, "I meant what breed is he, what kind?"

"Who knows?" Matilda shook her head. "The scruffy kind, the busybody kind, the kind which likes his dinner on time. He’s something of everything, the way a dog should be. Do you take sugar?" she asked again.

"I don’t know." The boy looked suddenly thin with confusion. "Should I?"

"You would prob ably prefer it."

"Yes please, sugar," he said, as if he’d known all along.

Matilda stirred sugar into both cups. The milk turned the tea a pressed- rose brown. Quiffs of white steam waltzed and vanished. The boy returned to studying Peake. "You should have called him Max," he said. "Max is a good name for a dog."

"A good name for some dogs," Matilda agreed, "but not for Peake."

"Does he bite?"

"Occasionally, I’m afraid. There are certain cats, and certain people, of whom he particularly disapproves."

The boy smiled — as if he too disapproved of certain things, and was occasionally tempted to bite them. Peake was watching the visitor closely, neither wagging his tail nor growling but simply staring. Hewatched the boy take the cup and saucer that Matilda passed across the table; his ears, angular as envelopes, twitched when the spoon clinked on the cup. The boy looked appreciatively into the tea, but pouted whenMatilda offered him the biscuit plate. "I prefer biscuits with jam," he said.

"So do I," said Matilda. "There were some in the tin, but I ate them. There’s usually only Peake and myself, you see, so we eat all the fancy biscuits and leave the plain ones for last. I’d have bought a cake or sometarts if I’d known we were expecting a visitor today."

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 16, 2009

    This has helped to heal my heart

    First of all this book is a YA book but I am 26 yrs old and I think you should at least be 18 to read this. It goes into life's experiences that most women under 18 have not lived through yet. It's also about love lost mainly losing a baby, which I did at 23, I now have a son who is one but the hole I had from the baby I lost is now a lil smaller becuase of this book.

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  • Posted October 29, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Ashley B for

    Matilda comes home one day to find a young boy sitting on her sofa. They have tea, and she tells him about her past. At that time, she went by Maddy, and she longed for a fairy tale life. <BR/><BR/>When Maddy finished school, she came home to her family's house by the sea. Her father asked her what she thought the most beautiful thing in the world was. She answered, "sea eagles." Her father decided that the two of them together would travel the world in search of the world's most beautiful thing, since he was not satisfied with her answer. After their travels, she was asked the question again. And she realized that she was the answer her father was looking for. <BR/><BR/>One day when she was back home, she went to the beach. She saw a young man and found herself walking towards him, scaring away the pelican that he was holding. She went to see him every day after that. She called him Feather. She married Feather, and they moved into a cottage in the forest. <BR/><BR/>He left one day, to be at his one place where he could be happy. Maddy could not come though, he told her. Weeks after, she wondered why he went to this one place and if he was happy. She decided that she needed to know the answer, so she had a sailboat made, and she set to sea. She saw many things, and spoke to sea life. She found Feather, and got her answer. <BR/><BR/>When she got back to her home, she left the cottage, unable to live there any longer. She decided she wanted to work in the war. She nursed injured soldiers, and from there decided that she wanted to be a doctor. From then on, she was Matilda. She helped people and then began to age. She was getting older, and lived in a house by herself. She ended her days in that house. <BR/><BR/>This was a very intriguing book. I was confused with the boy, but by the last chapter, I knew exactly who he was and why he was there. The life that Maddy lived was amazing. She went through so much, and many of those things weren't so good, which is very easy to relate to. Her parents were odd. Her father wanted Maddy to be who she wanted to be, whereas her mother just wanted her daughter to marry a rich man and not care about being happy, which bothered me. Feather was also confusing. He appeared out of nowhere. I was happy they married, but unhappy when he left her. <BR/><BR/>Overall, this was a very interesting book, and was hard to put down. I enjoyed it very much.

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    Posted June 29, 2010

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    Posted June 13, 2009

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