The Ghost Garden contains suspense, character development and a story arc that satisfies the reader in under ninety pages with great skill in Emma Carroll’s first novella for Barrington Stoke does all of that. The setting of a grand house and its gardens is reminiscent of classics such as The Secret Garden, The Children of Green Knowe, Tom’s Midnight Garden and others. The Ghost Garden does have the feel of a story that has always been there and has been awakened by the author for us all to enjoy.
Set during the summer of 1914 this has a slightly different theme to other World War 1 fiction for this age group concentrating less on the horrors of war itself and more on the world that would be changed forever by its impact. Fran, the daughter of the gardener at Longbarrow House, discovers a bone while digging in the flower beds and when Leo, the grandson of the owners, breaks his leg the same day she is unsettled by the coincidence. The atmosphere of tension in the household coupled with Fran’s worries that the coincidences that follow are more than that and maybe premonitions add to the feeling of foreboding which builds and draws the reader on.
Old mansions and large formal gardens with their secret places and their histories lend themselves to fiction, almost becoming characters themselves. Emma Carroll conveys that feeling well drawing on the fluid boundaries between the past and the present one is aware of when visiting places such as these. There is a supernatural feel to this story which is wonderful for gripping young readers who often like to be scared but not too much so. Almost a ghost story but with a tension and mystery that is thoughtful and provides a link to wars and soldiers in history this is a story that has the impact of a much longer book leaving a lasting impression after you turn the final page.
The characterisation is well done and Fran is an engaging protagonist. Initially wary of Leo who, prickly and reserved, is not initially sympathetic but as Fran trundles around the gardens and grounds pushing Leo in his wheelchair there is a gradual thawing and the developing friendship is believable and quite touching. The story also depicts class distinctions and the different lives of the children involved and how the looming threat of war will make a difference to them all.
The conclusion provides a link to our present world and a theme that may console and encourage discussion. In the final pages, Emma Carroll provides helpful historical notes giving the background to the events in Europe taking place at that time and mentioned in the story. As with all books published by Barrington Stoke, The Ghost Garden is produced in a dyslexia-friendly font specially created to make reading easier and an accessible layout and heavier paper with a gentle tint help reduce visual stress. Careful editing ensures that this story can be enjoyed by children with a reading age of 8+. Other titles for this age group include Swan Song by Gill Lewis and World Burn Down by Steve Cole.
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