Children's Literature - Mary Sue Preissner
Graymoss, the family's antebellum home, looms at the end of the dusty road complete with its own mysterious legend. As great-grandmother Sarah slips to her eternal slumber, she admonishes Lia that this aging edifice must be preserved and protected, but also to be kept at a distance for "the house is haunted by a terrible, fearful evil." Searching for a 130 year-old diary, keeping her parents and grandmother misinformed, and procuring good voodoo to protect her, Lia embarks on a journey, not only to save her heritage, but to affirm that she too is courageous, a legacy left by a family of strong females. A must buy!
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 1998: Ghost story around a haunted plantation in Louisiana sums this plot up. From Civil War days, the family home is reported to be filled with evil, and it has remained uninhabited. When Lia's mother inherits the place, she and her husband want to turn it into a home for children. Since Lia likes her status as only child, she at first hopes her parents will be discouraged by the hauntings. Later, when she realizes how much good they could do by providing a home for these children, she determines to rid the house of the evil presence. This takes some detective work with information from an old diary, and bravery in confronting the place after dark. Lia changes from a shy bookish type at the beginning of the story to a young woman willing to fight for what she believes in. Taken as a whole, this is entertaining for middle school students who enjoy slightly scary ghost stories. Nixon succeeds in creating the necessary atmosphere to sustain the plot. KLIATT Codes: JRecommended for junior high school students. 1998, Random House, Dell Yearling, 184p., Ages 12 to 15.
VOYA - Bill Mollineaux
Through her dying great-grandmother Sarah, thirteen-year-old Lia Starling discovers that Graymoss, her family's pre-Civil War plantation, is not only still standing but also well kept. Sarah also reveals that Graymoss is haunted by a terrible evil. Lia's mother, who doesn't believe in ghosts, is thrilled to inherit Graymoss because its size will enable her and her husband to fulfill their dream of "adopting a housefull of what are considered unadoptable children." Upon visiting Graymoss, Lia and her parents encounter five people who dwell upon the evil spirits haunting Graymoss, preventing anyone from spending the night there. Of course, all five would benefit if Graymoss is not occupied by the Starlings. As strange happenings occur, readers will wonder if they are caused by evil spirits or one of these locals. Once again Nixon has woven a tale that grabs and holds her readers as Lia, using the Civil War diary of Graymoss's last resident and a copy of Favorite Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, unravels the mystery. (Could this turn the reader on to Poe?) As with Nixon's other books, there is more here than just a good mystery, including things teenagers can relate to. At the beginning of the story Lia is a bookish, shy, and introverted girl who has to contend with a family of exceptionally brave women. An only child, she is at first understandably against her parents' adoption plans, and if she has to move, she will have to leave her only friend. Romance is not absent, as Lia meets Jonathan, a real hunk. One of my seventh-grade students summed it up best when she said "It's a really fun read! It really kept me guessing 'cause everyone was a suspect." VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-A book that will please mystery fans. As the story opens, Lia, 15, is at her great-grandmother Sarah's bedside. Delirious, the old woman begins to speak of Graymoss Plantation, the Louisiana family estate left unoccupied for decades because of a "terrible, fearful evil." After the woman's death, Lia discovers that the house has been willed to her mother, who plans to move the family in and adopt a group of hard-to-place children. Lia is against this idea and vows to prove to her mother that the house is truly haunted. She learns that the ghostly occurrences are well documented and that several locals oppose the family taking up residence at Graymoss. Could one of these people be staging the hauntings? There are lots of suspects and readers will enjoy trying to solve the mystery along with the inquisitive Lia. While the suspense is not constant, the plot keeps readers guessing until the end. Not Nixon's best, but sure to be popular where her other novels circulate.-Michele Snyder, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Lia, 15, is against her mother's plan to move the family to Graymoss, a plantation house in Bogue City, Louisiana, where she and Lia's father plan to adopt a dozen children and turn the house into a group home. Lia, a timid bookworm, is fond of her status as only child, and painfully aware that she is unlike the other women in her family, a brave and adventurous lot dating all the way back to Charlotte Blevins, who lived in Graymoss during the Civil War. She's been told that the house is hauntedþpossessed by evil spirits that whisper and shriek and push people down stairsþand apparently no one in Bogue City will set foot in the house after dark. Lia hopes that her mother's plans will disintegrate once she's seen for herself the terrors the house holds. In the end, though, it's Lia who has a change of heart and musters her courage to drive the evil from Graymoss. Nixon (Murdered, My Sweet, 1997, etc.) creates a spooky setting fairly dripping in atmosphere, then spins an ever-tightening thread of tension. The ghosts in this story are compelling, although Lia is less so: Her reversal in feelings about the potential adoptees, after one sentimental meeting, is a bit slick. Nevertheless, fans will find the final exorcism of the ghost riveting. (Fiction. 10-12)
From the Publisher
"The plot keeps readers guessing until the end."School Library Journal
"Typical of Nixon's popular gothics, this title has it all."The Horn Book Magazine
"Nixon creates a spooky setting fairly dripping with atmosphere, then spins an ever-tightening thread of tension."Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
My fingers shook as I pushed back the long strands of hair that had fallen over my face.
I peered at the pale, shriveled ninety-six-year-old woman who lay in a coma in the hospital bed.
The sound--was it a whisper?--came again. This time I could see the colorless lips move.
Holding my breath, I edged forward in the wobbly plastic chair. I was ready to jump to my feet and run. I had better find Mom and Grandma. Great-grandmother Sarah was waking up.
I stretched out a hand to the edge of her bed, steadying myself. Slowly and quietly I began to rise.
Suddenly Sarah's deep brown eyes opened and she stared at me. Her knobby fingers clamped around my wrist so tightly that it hurt.
"Don't go, Anne." It sounded like an order. In a voice as raspy as a fingernail on a blackboard, she managed to utter, "I have something important to tell you."
I took a deep breath, my pounding heart banging loudly in my ears. "I--I'm not my mom--that is, Anne," I stammered. "It's--Lia. Anne's daughter. Mom's down in the hospital cafeteria with Grandma. They asked me to sit with you. Mom and I came to San Francisco because you've been in a coma, and . . .
I knew I was babbling and it felt as if, as usual, I was doing everything all wrong. I begged, "If you'll let go of me I'll run and get Mom. Grandma, too,"
But Sarah didn't seem to hear. Her gaze didn't waver as she stared into my eyes. "Be quiet, Anne," she insisted, "Listen to me.
I realized that Great-grandmother hardly knew me, so I didn't blame her for not recognizing me. But I didn't look like Mom, I didn't look like Grandma, I didn't look the way I was supposed to look at all.
I thought of the long line of strong women from whom I had descended, Tall, big-boned, and handsome, with dark hair and brown eyes, my maternal ancestors had stepped into the world with pride and courage and had accomplished amazing things.
Then there was me.
I couldn't count how often I'd heard Grandma Augusta say, "Speak up, Lia, so people can hear you. And for goodness' sakes get that hair out of your eyes. It looks like you're hiding behind a curtain."
Sometimes Grandma would sigh dramatically, sadly shake her head, and say to my mother, "Look at the child, Anne. She's no bigger than a minute and all that pale hair--where did it come from? She's not a bit like any of the women in our family. If I hadn't been on hand at the hospital when she was born, I might start believing in changelings."
My mom wasn't as blunt, but sometimes she agreed with Grandma. "It's good to be a reader, but, Lia, your nose is always in a book. Don't you want to do things? You need to meet people. Have more fun."
I always gave the same answer, wondering if Mom would even notice. "I am having fun. Reading is fun."
"You're fifteen. You need to have friends."
"I have a friend. A best friend. Jolie."
"I mean lots of friends so you can do some fun things."
"Why should I have lots of friends? I like being with Jolie."
Periodically Grandma and Mom would get so stirred up they'd start a What to Do About Lia project. I'd be signed up for lessons. The worst of all was when they wanted me to go to cheerleading camp. I found it easier to just go along, pay no attention to the other kids--who took the classes with great enthusiasm--and keep doing my own, untalented best. Within two or four weeks the lessons would be over and Jolie and I could go back to exploring the unlimited wonders of our Metairie, Louisiana, branch library. We'd have sleepovers at which we'd read awesome and horrifying ghost stories to each other.
My great-grandmother Sarah's grip on my arm weakened, and she lay back against her pillow. Her eyelids, like brittle, yellowed paper, slowly slid shut. "I have to let you know about Graymoss, Anne," she said. "And I haven't much time or energy to speak--listen to me.
Not knowing what else to do, I muttered, "I'm listening." With a scared, sick feeling, I faced the fact that there might not be time to go for Mom.
"You do know about Graymoss, don't you?" Sarah asked. Her eyelids fluttered open again, and she looked as if she were begging me to answer yes.
"Graymoss. Yes, I know a little about it," I replied.
Actually, I'd discovered the existence of Graymoss two years before, when I was thirteen and I had been looking through some old family albums. I'd held up a pencil sketch of a large, graceful two-story house with verandas upstairs and down. Its roof was supported by rows of tall, white Ionic columns.
"What's this place in the picture?" I asked Mom. "The one where someone's written at the bottom 'Graymoss Plantation, 1831.'"
Mom had leaned over my shoulder to study the sketch. "Graymoss was the Blevinses' plantation home. That date must refer to the year it was built," she said.
"This is where the famous Charlotte Blevins lived!" I said. I'd been told often about Charlotte Blevins--my great-great-great--who had lived on Graymoss plantation as a child with her parents and grandparents. In 1861, during the War Between the States, Charlotte's parents and grandmother died. Later, when Charlotte was only sixteen, a detachment of the Union Army marched through that part of Louisiana, looting and burning many of the large plantation houses. Charlotte's grandfather was killed, but somehow Charlotte was able to persuade a Union officer to spare her home. It wasn't burned or destroyed like most in the area.
Charlotte proceeded to grow up and establish a school to teach former slaves and their children to read and write. She was a strong-minded, courageous woman who headed a long line of strong-minded, courageous women.
"What happened to Graymoss after the Civil War?" I'd asked.
Mom had shrugged. "I have no idea. Like many of those old plantations, it probably deteriorated years ago.
I never liked that answer. It didn't satisfy me. In my mind I visualized a deeply green lawn rolling from the back veranda down to the Mississippi River, like the lawns at Oak Alley and some of the other well-kept plantation houses. Graymoss would be a quiet, peaceful place with big rocking chairs on the veranda, and when a light breeze blew, it would ruffle the pages of the book I was reading.
I waited for Sarah to continue with her words about Graymoss. I realized that if anyone in the family knew the answer to my question about the fate of Graymoss, she'd be the one. I asked abruptly, "Great-grandmother, what happened to Graymoss ?"
Sarah shuddered, and a strange, fearful look came into her eyes. She took a deep breath and seemed to be trying to gather strength, but her voice wavered as she answered, "Graymoss is there. It's waiting."
My heart jumped. "You mean it? Really? Graymoss is still standing?"
Sarah closed her eyes again, but she continued to speak rapidly. "Listen to me, Anne. I'm leaving Graymoss to you and not to Augusta. Augusta is headstrong and adamant about what should be done with Graymoss. If Augusta had her way Graymoss would be torn down. I can't let that happen. My attorney understands the provisions of Charlotte's will . . . and mine. We must continue to protect the house . . . and care for it. We have no choice,"
Sarah's voice grew so low and soft that I had to lean close to hear her,
"Someone has actually cared for the house all these years?" I asked,
"Yes, There is a trust that takes care of taxes, repairs, expenses, and the caretaker's salary."
"I don't understand," I told her, "If the house is still standing and is in good condition, then why hasn't anyone in the family ever lived in it?"
Sarah sighed. Her lips barely moved as she said, "Read Charlotte's diary. Then you'll know."
"Know what, Great-grandmother? What will I know?"
"Read the diary,"
"Where is the diary? Where will I find it?"
For just an instant Sarah's fingers tightened on my arm, "We must save Graymoss, but stay far away from it," she said, "The house is haunted by a terrible, fearful evil."
From the Trade Paperback edition.