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22 May 2021 OPHIE’S GHOSTS by Justina Ireland, HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, May 2021, 336p., ISBN: 978-0-06-291589-4


“If there's something strange

In your neighborhood

Who you gonna call


If there's something weird

And it don't look good

Who can you call


— Ray Parker, Jr.


Ophelia “Ophie” Harrison is a twelve-year-old Black girl in the early 1920s. She and her mother escape their small town in Georgia after Ophie’s father is murdered and their house is burned down.


In the opening scene, we see Ophelia’s father frantically awakening her, telling her to grab the can with the family’s money out from under the loose floorboard, and quickly get her mother out of the house and into Ophie’s secret hiding place in the woods. Later, after she’s done as he’d told her, and as their house is going up in flames, her father briefly appears at the hiding spot--a former animal den--and encourages Ophie to get some sleep. 


But how can this possibly be if, as she is later told, her father was actually murdered on the way home that day after daring to vote? It turns out that Ophie can see ghosts. Her dad’s is her first.


Ophie and her mother leave Georgia and travel to Pittsburgh where they move into a house that’s already crowded with relatives. This includes three bullying girl cousins. They go to school, but Ophelia must work so that she and her mom can rent their own place ASAP. So she heads off with her mother to Daffodil Manor, a large, down-on-its-heels mansion.


There, Ophelia is to serve the Manor’s very wealthy and very cranky old white widow, Mrs. Caruthers. And Daffodil Manor is bustling with ghosts, including Clara, who offers Ophie advice on dealing with the angry Mrs. Caruthers.


At home one evening, Ophie’s Aunt Rose figures out Ophie’s secret when she observes Ophie watching the ghost of Rose’s late husband. Aunt Rose explains that seeing haints runs in the family and warns Ophie about the dangers of giving attention to, or communicating with, the ghosts. But Ophie ignores the advice. She wants to know why all those ghosts are stuck in Mrs. Caruther’s mansion. 


One of the ghosts with whom Ophie engages in conversation is a young Black boy whose ghostly back is ripped up, crisscrossed with whip marks.


“There were a lot of terrible ways to die, and even if Ophie didn’t know what all of them were, she had a feeling this boy knew at least one.

‘What happened to you?’ Ophie asked.

The boy shrugged. ‘I tried to run away. They found me. Now I can never leave.’

‘Why can’t you, you know, move on?’ Ophie asked. ‘Is there something you want? Can I help you?’ Ophie realized that she desperately wanted to help the boy in that moment, to offer him something to remove the sorrow from his eyes.

The boy shrugged. ‘Ain’t nothing I want. Not that you can give me, anyway. Can you keep Henry safe?’

Ophie bit her lip, a sharp pain lodging under her rib and stealing her breath. Mr. Henry? He was an old man, and this boy was just a kid like Ophie. How could he keep Mr. Henry safe? How could she? Aunt Rose had said all ghosts want something, but what was Ophie to do with the ones who wanted something impossible?

The boy confused Ophie and gave her a peculiar sensation, as though she had more in common with him than anyone else in Daffodil Manor, even Clara. He was dead, and yet so close to life that Ophie could talk as if he were there with her. In another life, she could have been him--a ghost trapped in a terrible place. She knew why those men in Georgia had killed her daddy, even if everyone pretended she was still a baby and couldn’t understand. She knew that even in Pittsburgh, it was dangerous to go into the Polish or Irish neighborhoods because bad things happened to colored people, especially girls. All the unspoken rules that Ophie and her kin abided by in order to stay safe, this sad boy was a stark reminder that every single one existed because colored folks had once been property, and that some people still saw them as nothing more than that.”


Between dealing with her mean cousins, the cranky and racist Mrs. Caruthers, and all the ghosts, what will Ophie do? Can she solve the murder mysteries relating to Clara and the other dead inhabitants of Daffodil Manor? Or should she listen to Aunt Rose and ignore the haints?


Breathtakingly captivating and disturbing, OPHIE’S GHOSTS is a great mystery and ghost story for eight-to-fourteens that reveals a lot about the lives of Black Americans during the depths of the Jim Crow era. 


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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