This is book # 5 completed for MotherReader's 2009 48 Hour Book Challenge. (Fourth one read start-to-finish). I spent 1 hour and 40 minutes reading it, and 35 minutes on the review.
The Ghosts of Rathburn Park is a fairly new (2002) book by one of my favorite childhood authors, Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It bears a strong resemblance to another one of her recent titles, The Treasures of Weatherby. I can't say that this one had the magic of my childhood favorites for me (The Velvet Room, The Changeling, etc.). However, it does feature a sympathetic protagonist, a very cool old house, and a bit of a classic feel, reminding me here and there of Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake. There are also some parallels with Mary Downing Hahn's Closed for the Season (helpful librarians, a father in a new city planning type job, long bike rides, etc).
After eleven year old Matt "the Hamster" Hamilton and his family move from desert-like Six Palms to tree-filled Rathburn Park, Matt finds himself a bit at loose ends. He wanders away from a town picnic in a and gets lost in the woods, only to be rescued by a small dog. After hearing stories about an abandoned town in the same woods, and a run-down mansion called the Palace, Matt returns on his bike to explore. There, in the ruins of an old church, Matt meets a girl in old-fashioned clothes who claims to be Amelia Rathburn. Problem is, the only Amelia Rathburn anyone in town knows of is an elderly woman, the last remnant of the great Rathburn family. Matt isn't sure whether Amelia is a ghost or not. There's something odd about the small dog, too. Matt's quest to understand these mysteries, and learn more about the abandoned town, is set against ordinary family struggles (an older brother who wants more freedom, and a drama queen of an older sister).
Matt is a kid to whom readers will probably be able to relate. He has an imagination to rival Jesse from Bridge to Terebithia. He's skinny and uncoordinated and the last kid chosen for sports teams. He shies away from conflict, listening to arguments makes him nervous. He's used to being ordered around by his family, and he'd rather have his older brother tease him than ignore him. He also has a special connection with dogs. Amelia, on the other hand, is sulky, obnoxious, and bossy. But she does know the safe way across the quicksand-ridden swamp, and she even has a secret way into the basement of the Palace.
As with many of Snyder's books, the Palace, a huge old house in the woods, is pretty much a character in the story. Here's some description:
... he continued to stare up to where a cluster of smaller towers was beginning to show above the tops of the trees. A whole forest of towers, reaching up three or four stories into the sky. Some of them were roundish, some triangular, some more of less square. And all of them were decorated with pillars and railings and fancy wooden trim. Matt was amazed, and very impressed." (Page 65)
Still looking up at the fantastic mansion, he couldn't help sighing. He was thinking that any house with such a grand bunch of decorations on the outside just naturally would have to be incredibly interesting on the inside. Grand and elegant and full of unexpected rooms and hallways and mysterious nooks and crannies like the weird houses that sometimes appeared in his dreams." (Page 67)
Oh, how I would have loved the house as a 10-year-old reader. Fans of middle grade books featuring spooky ruins, interesting houses, and potential ghosts should give this one a look.
Publication Date: 2002
Source of Book: Bought it at a used bookstore
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.