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The Ghost's Child


The Ghost's Child

Matilda, an elderly woman who lives in a small house surrounded by beautiful artifacts from a life spent journeying to the far corners of the globe, comes home one day to find a stranger --- a young boy --- sitting in her living room. After offering him biscuits and tea, she also offers him a story --- of her long life, a life filled with beauty, love and heartrending loss.

Matilda (who was known as Maddy when she was young) came from a well-off family in a seaside town. She was independent, unconventional and often lonely as a child, never seeming to fit in with those of her own age and social standing. After finishing boarding school, Maddy was taken on a worldwide tour by her father, a pursuit of one question: "What is the world's most beautiful thing?"

Maddy thinks she finds the answer during her journey, but she only discovers the truly most beautiful thing, the thing that will shape the rest of her life, upon returning home. There, on the beach near her parents' home, she find a young man, Feather, who lives with the sea birds she also adores. Feather owns nothing and cares for no one --- and Maddy falls hopelessly in love with his freedom, his quietness, his gentle strength.

"She knew for certain that Feather, homeless on the beach, tousled and tameless as a flash of lightning, was the most beautiful thing in the world. Cathedrals were ruins, compared to him. Stained-glass windows were mud." Overcoming her parents' objections to their relationship by promising that she and Feather will live a more conventional life, she fails to anticipate the consequences of trying to tame someone as wild as Feather.

Maddy's history of heartbreak and loss defines much of her life, which is also marked by achievement, sacrifice and a bittersweet homecoming. Fantastical elements abound as well, from an imaginary protector to talking sea creatures to Feather himself. These elements, combined with Sonya Hartnett's lyrical language, give the book the feeling of a fairy tale, even as it reinforces the notion that fairy-tale lives rarely exist, even in novels.

Although teens will certainly respond to its fantasy aspects as well as its meditations on love, loss and identity, adult readers may most readily grasp and respond to the novel's emotional heft and wisdom and recognize themselves and their relationships in passages like this one: "The days of sitting together idly watching the waves were a long time in the past. Before there'd been leaks to plug and garments to mend, they'd had nothing to do but linger and talk. Now they toiled and slept, and not much more. They no longer searched for faces in the clouds, or walked through the forest at midnight. They spoke a lot about the house, and hardly ever about the people who lived in it."

Adults who stumble upon this lovely novel will recognize themselves in its message of the bittersweet pain of love lost; younger readers will respond to its romantic notions and spirit of adventure. Like the best fables, THE GHOST'S CHILD can be read and enjoyed on many levels --- as a fantasy tale, a love story, an exquisite metaphor for the life each of us crafts for ourselves.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 14, 2008

The Ghost's Child
by Sonya Hartnett

  • Publication Date: October 14, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763639648
  • ISBN-13: 9780763639648