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Judith Sparrow, 15, finds herself alone in the world after her mother passes away. Her father died some time before, and she has no other immediate family. When her Uncle Geoffrey offers to take her in, she gladly travels from Ohio to Whispers, South Carolina (near Charleston) to live with him. Judith is invited to stay as long as she wishes, provided that she helps Emma Hastings, the housekeeper and cook, around the house and, most importantly, that she doesn't bring anything with the color green into the house. Judith finds the latter request somewhat peculiar but, under the circumstances, she agrees.
Before she begins her journey, Judith discards several green articles of clothing. But she cannot bear to part with a photo of her dead mother in a green frame. She can't imagine that her tiny green frame will bother her uncle, so she stashes it deep within her trunk. With fantasies of a future friendship with her cousin Charles in mind, she sets off for South Carolina.
Upon arrival, Judith finds Whispers a little eerie and her uncle hard to crack. Cousin Charles turns out to be nowhere near her age -- closer to 40 years old, actually -- and far from pleasant. Mrs. Hastings, on the other hand, is a warm, welcoming presence. There is indeed no green in the house, but Judith's room is to her liking. She settles in. Her uncle allows her to take a job, and she is glad of the opportunity to make some money and some friends. Judith works in a bonnet store, and it is there that she begins to hear rumors about her uncle's house. There was a young girl who lived in the house before Judith, also an orphan. Her name was Jade Green, and green was her favorite color. The accounts of Jade vary, but one thing is for sure: Jade Green died in the house where Judith now lives.
Judith's life flourishes in this odd environment. She even falls a little bit in love with Zeke, the boy who delivers flour to her spooky old house. He waits for her after work and drives her home in his carriage. But her nights are sheer terror. There is constant scratching and noise at night, and it isn't coming from mice, as she first suspected. Judith feels the house is haunted. She worries constantly that she is going mad. But mainly she worries that by bringing that green frame into the house, she has woken the ghost of Jade Green.
The delightful Jade Green is set in the late 1800s. Author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has written more than 100 books for children, including the Alice series and the Shiloh trilogy. She won the 1992 Newbery Medal for Shiloh. In Jade Green she has produced another quaint and quick read.
Naylor does a great job with the ghost story, creating fun supernatural occurrences throughout the book. But she doesn't allow these somewhat gimmicky moments to dominate her plot, which makes Jade Green that much more enjoyable. A walking hand may happen to appear every few chapters, but in between those appearances there is a full dose of gossip, destruction, love stories, family secrets, and budding friendships.
There is a fair amount of suspense as the story of Jade's untimely death unfolds; this is a ghost story, after all. But it isn't very anxiety-provoking. Readers can expect a nice thrill that won't result in ten bitten fingernails.