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The Ghosts of Rathburn Park    by Zilpha Keatley Snyder order for
Ghosts of Rathburn Park
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 2008 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Hamiltons have moved from Six Palms to Timber City, where dad was hired as the new city manager. They are invited to celebrate the Fourth of July and the town founding at the traditional annual picnic. Eleven-year old Matt is a history buff, brother Justin at sixteen is athletic, and nine-year old sister Courtney is referred to as a 'world-class emoter', i.e. she has crying jags.

Matt's interest in history immediately entices him to explore Rathburn Park, a Sherwood Forest where he can play out the part of Robin Hood. Matt becomes so involved with his imagination that time passes and he becomes lost. After an apparition of a dog helps Matt find his way out, the dog disappears. Troublemaker Lance Layton wastes no time informing Matt that Rathburn Park is 'a pretty dangerous place ... and haunted'. It includes the remains of a town that burned down years past. A No Trespassing sign was posted by the Rathburns and Mrs. Hardacre is the only one authorized to take visitors on tours of the site. Still living in the Rathburn Mansion is elderly Amelia Rathburn (almost one-hundred years old), with her household staff.

During a repeat trek to the Park, Matt stands at the church doors when he hears a voice, 'You'd better get out of there or you're going to get yourself killed ... You hear me?' The voice is that of a girl with especially large eyes, outfitted in a hat that's 'enormous velvety, wide-brimmed and bulgy, covered with all kinds of shiny ribbons and feathery plumes, and wrapped in a veil wound around her face and over her shoulders'. Introducing herself as Amelia Eleanora Rathburn, she takes Matt further into the property, leading him into the Mansion through a basement window, while warning that he must be very quiet. Amelia takes Matt to a cabin once inhabited by now-deceased Old Tom, and again warns him, 'Don't you ever come in here without me. You hear?'

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is a seasoned YA author, winning the Newbery Honor for The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid, and The Witches of Worm. The Ghosts of Rathburn Park is tantalizingly playful and entertaining, with mystery and suspense that will keep readers sticking to the story until its end. I was disappointed that the author never really reveals the fire-setter. However, it's the cast of well delineated characters that drives the story, and I particularly appreciated an incident that brings the brothers together.

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