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'Ghost Girl'     Send a link to a friend

[APRIL 21, 2004]  "Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story," by Delia Ray. Clarion Books, 2003, 216 pages.

Review by Linda Harmon

April Sloane was 11 years old and had never been to school. There was no school in the hollow of the Blue Ridge Mountains where April and her family lived. She heard that President Hoover was going to build them a school, but she heard it from a very irritating source, Dewey Jessup, and so she wouldn't believe it until she saw it.

She was out hunting ginseng root a couple of months later when she heard the hammers for the first time. Upon exploration she found out that Dewey was right, so she slipped away as often as she could to watch the school being built. On one of these visits she saw Miss Vest for the first time. April had never seen a woman as sophisticated as Miss Vest and began to dream of sitting in her classroom and learning from her.

April's mother had not been the same since the death of April's younger brother, Riley. He was badly burned while she was taking care of him, and April carries a dark secret about the events of that night. Her mother doesn't seem to be interested in anything, including April. This distance was really hard on April. Not only did she miss her mother's attention, but she constantly longed for her approval.

April eventually told her mother about the school, but her dreams were destroyed when her mother told her that she had no intention of letting her go to school. Her only hope of going to school was to enlist the help of her grandmother, known to all, even April, as Aunt Birdy.

Aunt Birdy was finally able to convince April's parents that she needed to go to school. She arrived there bright and early on the opening day of school, and so did a flock of reporters and cameramen. The opening of the president's school was big news, but it also made it very hard for Miss Vest to do any teaching.

April became an excellent student, and she and Miss Vest became very close. Miss Vest saw potential and a need in April that no one besides Aunt Birdy had ever noticed.

 

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Ghost Girl : A Blue Ridge Mountain StoryOne day at recess two of the older boys got into a fight. April was knocked out of the way and ended up with a badly broken arm. It was too late in the day to get her down the mountain to the hospital, so she spent the night with Miss Vest in her apartment at the school. When her mother found out, she was furious and demanded that April leave school. April and Miss Vest were devastated, but April's mother wouldn't listen.

The events of the year that April left school changed her life forever but also brought much-needed closure. She eventually moved in with Miss Vest and began to believe that she had a future.

"Ghost Girl" is fiction based on real events and, in some instances, real people who were involved in the President's Mountain School in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. President Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, had a fishing camp called Camp Rapidan in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was during one their visits that Mrs. Hoover noticed that there was no school for the children in that area, so she and the president decided to build one. The time frame was the early 1930s, during the Great Depression. Miss Christine Vest was the real teacher, and most of the inspiration for the novel came from her letters and other writings.

The author spent a lot of time at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, looking through a collection of Hoover letters, diaries and photographs. She also spent some time with the sons of Christian Vest Witcofski, who provided many interesting facts about their mother's life during the time she spent at the President's Mountain School.

This is a wonderful and touching story about the strength of the human spirit, love and forgiveness. Woven into the narrative are facts about a real teacher and a real school. This book is recommended for ages 10 and up.

[Linda Harmon, Lincoln Public Library District]

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