The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn, 128 pp, RL 3

The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn is a great book for a young reader who is looking for a good ghost story but needs a gentle start. The ghosts in this story are not malevolent, although there is a very cranky, mean old lady who hates cats. Approximately the same reading level as a Goosebumps book, Hahn's story offers a genuine ghost story without the creepy-quasi-horror plot line that Stine employs.

The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story is narrated by almost eleven-year-old Ashley Cummings. After the death of her father, Ashley, her cat Oscar and her mother move to Monkton Hills where they rent an apartment on the top floor of the house owned by Miss Cooper, the crotchety old lady. After harassing Ashley about her cat, telling her what part of the yard she is and isn't allowed to enter, and asking her age, she says, "I'm eighty-eight, and I know what girls your age are like. Don't think you can get away with anything just because I'm old." Ashley tries her best to stay out of Miss Cooper  - and her tiny dog Max's - way and follow her rules, but a glimpse of a white cat running through the overgrown wilderness that comprises most of the off-limits garden and the sound of a child crying in the night make her think. The next day, Ashley goes looking for the white cat and discovers a dried up pond and a statue of a cherub in the wilderness. She also meets Kristi, her new neighbor. Kristi tells Ashley that the garden is haunted and asks her if she's seen the white cat and heard the crying.

The girls become inseparable - until they find a a wooden box with an antique doll and a note inside that causes them to being bickering, each jealously coveting Anna Maria, the doll. Soon Ashley is sneaking out at midnight to follow the white cat and find out who Carrie and Louisa Perkins from the note with the doll are. She also discovers a house and a sick little girl playing with her dolls is a beautiful garden. As Ashley and Kristi's fighting gets worse, Anna Marie disappears and the child's crying at night gets worse. The climax of the story finds Ashley, Kristi and Miss Cooper making a midnight venture into the overgrown garden with the hopes of returning Anna Maria to her rightful owner. Hahn blends just the right level of tragedy, jealousy and friendship in her characters, past and present, creating a story that is fast paced and easy to follow. And, as I mentioned earlier, the levels of tension and suspense are low enough that younger readers can dive into this book without worry of nightmares.

Source: Paperback Swap

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