Friday, February 09, 2007

Horrors! A Scary Ghost Story from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor!

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is, of course, the author of the Newbery Award dog story Shiloh and its sequels Saving Shiloh and Shiloh Season. (See also the three Shilohfilms.)

Naylor has also written several humorous series and many well-reviewed stand-alone novels for middle readers, but I just finished a fairly recent novel in which she tries her hand rather successfully with a YA ghost story.

The book, Jade Green, is set in the early years of the last century and begins (in a tone reminiscent of Jane Eyre) with newly orphaned Judith, journeying to live with her rather dour uncle, who has emphatically urged her to bring nothing of the color green into his house. Unable to part with a picture of her mother in a green silk frame, Judith hides the photo away in her trunk and notices nothing amiss with the household except that her uncle, his jovial housekeeper, and his strange son eat no green fruits or vegetables inside the house.

Soon, however, Judith is disconcerted by strange nocturnal scratchings and piano playing and by the unwanted attentions of her older cousin Charles. When Judith discovers that a girl named Jade Green bled to death of a severed hand in the house, she can only conclude that, having introduced the color green to the house, she is the cause of the ghostly visitations.

Judith distracts herself with the intriguing gossip in the hat shop where she works and the welcome company of her first beau until the severed hand itself begins to appear to her and eventually to others in the house. When a hurricane forces the family to prepare to evacuate, Judith is trapped with her dangerous cousin with no one to help but the spectral hand of Jade Green herself.

Naylor's tone is both Victorian yet concise, and Judith's narration brings the tale to a fittingly scary ending in which Jade Green's spirit finds retribution and release at last. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor handles the Gothic ghost story genre with her usual ability to build tension in a satisfyingly compelling manner.

This novel is best for older teens because of some demure love scenes, the obviously lascivious intentions of the older cousin, and the outright scariness of the midnight meanderings of the severed hand!



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