Thursday, June 03, 2021

Ophie's Ghosts

Ireland, Justina. Ophie's Ghosts
May 18th 2021 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1922, Ophie lives with her family in Georgia. When her home is attacked by violent racists after her father votes, she and her mother escape with the help of their pastor and start a new life in Pittsburgh. They live with Aunt Rose and a number of cousins, and her mother finds work in service at Daffodil Manor. While she would rather go to school, Ophie knows that in order for her and her mother to earn enough to get a place of their own, she will need to work as well. She gets hired at Daffodil Manor as well, taking care of the aged Mrs. Carruthers. Ophie must carry tea trays, read, and cater to the woman's fractious whims. Pittsburgh is cold and gray, and there's another development that complicates Ophie's life-- ever since her father's horrible death, she can see and communicate with ghosts. She sees many of them on public transport on her way to work, and the manor is filled with them as well. There is one particular ghost, Clara, who seems particularly helpful. However, Aunt Rose, who also has the ability to communicate with the spirit world, warns her that no ghost is to be trusted, and that Ophie can help spirits move on but should always be wary. As her responsibilities increase at the manor, Ophie tries to investigate what happened to Clara so that she can help her spirit move on. In communicating with her, she inadvertently increases Clara's powers. When Mrs. Carruthers' family visits for a big announcement from her son, Richard, Clara's ghost because more dangerous, taking over the body of another servant, Phoebe, and making it imperative that Ophie figure out Clara's fate before the entire family is endangered. 

Sorry there aren't more details-- I didn't want to spoil too much of the story!

Strengths: This had a great mix of elements-- a girl with special powers who uses them to help others around her, great descriptions of life in Pittsburgh in the 1920s, a creepy mansion, and social justice themes woven deftly throughout. There aren't a lot of books that address the Great Migration, and to combine this historical period with a ghost story is brilliant, especially when Ophie brings Southern traditions like haint blue paint to the North. The snapshot into the difficulties of employment for Black workers is valuable, and the fact that domestic positions are becoming harder to find after the Great War is addressed. Mrs. Carruthers is an interestingly developed character; can't say anything more than that! The ghosts, and Ophie's relationship with some of them before she knows enough to help them move on, are varied and interesting. This was a fast-paced, interesting read!
Weaknesses: I would have liked to know more about Ophie's life in Georgia before the attack on her family, but realize that would have slowed down the book a bit. 
What I really think: Perfect for fans of Barbara Brooks Wallace or India Hill Brown's The Forgotten Girl, this also reminded me a bit of Urban's Almost There and Almost Not and Duga's The Haunting. Definitely purchasing-- the cover is fantastic! Since I grew up not far from Pittsburgh, I loved the details of the city in the 1920s. 

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