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The Doll in the Garden, by Mary Downing Hahn - a Book Review

Updated on January 20, 2019
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Quick Info On Book

Title - The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story...How do you return a doll when its owner is dead?

Author - Mary Downing Hahn

Clarion Books, N.Y. - a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint; C. 1989, 128 pp.

Lovely Antique Doll. She Looks As If She Has In Interesting Story.

I am not a doll collector, but I would cherish this lovely lady.
I am not a doll collector, but I would cherish this lovely lady. | Source

How I Became Acquainted With This Book

I picked up this sweet looking little book last summer at a thrift store, berating myself because I have too many books already. But it seemed too charming to pass up. It made me think of another children's chapter book I had read about 12 years ago, whose name I can't recall. This other had been a fantasy story about Fairy Gifts - those items which sometimes show up mysteriously, and sometimes leave our lives just as mysteriously, perhaps to return to their rightful owners. The story had included Real Fairies, and had a kind of redemption theme. The Doll in the Garden turned out to have, as well.

I had no idea what to expect of the author of The Doll in the Garden, as this is the only book I've seen by her, but was delighted to find that the writing is clear and uncluttered, and the story is deep, in spite of being accessible to and designed for middle-school children. It is a story about grief, and forgiving those who have left us by dying, causing feelings of abandonment.

Secret Rose Garden

Would you love to spend an afternoon here?
Would you love to spend an afternoon here? | Source

Subject Matter

This story deals directly and fearlessly with the subject of the afterlife, focusing on the fact that some who have died have unfinished business, which prevents their souls from settling down and respecting the usual divide between the living and the dead. It deals just as artfully with the emotions we experience when the death of a loved one broadsides us. Among these are anger, depression, fear, and criticism of people who remind us of our pain.

A Ghost Cat, Like The Kitty In The Story

I have at least two ghost kitties living in my home. I enjoy them both, and think I would have liked Louisa's white cat, too.
I have at least two ghost kitties living in my home. I enjoy them both, and think I would have liked Louisa's white cat, too. | Source

Writing Style

None of the characters are stock, nor made-to-order for a particular readership or age-group. They are full of personality, idiosyncrasies, and flaws, much like the rest of us. The vocabulary is neither limited nor excessive, though I question whether some of the descriptions would come out of an average 10-year-olds' head. This is important to me, as the book is written in first person.

Doll Show, Nostalgic

How I Think Of Louisa's House In Its Middle Years

I would so love to explore this place! I see beauty in the paranormal, and enjoy connecting with old places such as this. It looks like a fine place to sit and hear a tale from its residents.
I would so love to explore this place! I see beauty in the paranormal, and enjoy connecting with old places such as this. It looks like a fine place to sit and hear a tale from its residents. | Source

Story Outline

Ashley Cummings moves to Baltimore with her mother, after her father dies of cancer. The house in which the two of them have taken an upstairs apartment belongs to Miss Cooper, who likes neither cats nor children, and seems as sour as a lime. She has a large yard, tidy except for a brambly rose garden inhabited by a white cat. There is a secret fountain at the garden’s center. After the neighbor girl, Kristi, tells Ashely that the cat is reputed to be a ghost, she is disturbed to notice the cat casts no shadow. Her own cat, Oscar, seems afraid of him, and will not come near him. Also, the cat seems to be connected to the sound, heard only in the summer, says Kristi, of a child crying.

Kristi and Ashley decide the mysterious rose garden can be their secret hideout, and begin cleaning it up, removing the weeds from around the fountain. The white cat hangs about, friendly and very real seeming. While the girls are tearing out a huge thistle plant, they discover a wooden box with a doll inside - a very old, beautiful doll, with a china head and a leather body. There is a note, left by someone named Carrie, asking a Louisa Perkins to please forgive her. Captivated, Ashley hides the doll in her room, but when Miss Cooper finds it missing from the garden, she demands it back. Ashley feels she has no way to explain that she is sure the doll never belonged to Miss Cooper - that she has, in fact, had a strange experience which showed her Louisa, a child dying of consumption, pining for this very doll. She has made a promise to Louisa to return the doll to her, and longs to do so. She is convinced that not only will Louisa's nightly crying stop, but her life may be saved by returning the doll.

Ashley's only hope is to convince Miss Cooper - who is Carrie - that Louisa needs her doll, as well as Carrie's friendship, and there is a way to return it. The white cat, who is only a ghost because of the passing of time, can travel from 1912 to the present, and back again, by merely passing through a hedge which divides Miss Cooper's house from the property next door.

Once Miss Cooper is convinced to trust both Ashley and the cat, and undertakes this strange journey to the cat’s 1912 home next door, Louisa's soul is laid to rest, and Miss Cooper and Ashley also find healing.

Once they pass through the hedge, following the cat’s lead, they are led to Louisa’s childhood home, which in the present appears as nothing more than a field with a broken foundation in it. In memory, it is a shady, pleasant yard where Louisa often had tea with her dolls. Carrie had borrowed the china-headed doll, and had failed to return it before Louisa’s death. Ever since, Carrie had lived in unforgiveness - for herself, for not returning the doll, and Louisa - for dying. Once she returns the doll to Louisa’s memory-figure, she is able to forgive, and Louisa’s crying ceases.

Tea, With Dolls and Kitty

I adored playing at tea when I was a child...and still do, in a grown-up sort of way. How would you like to join these girls?
I adored playing at tea when I was a child...and still do, in a grown-up sort of way. How would you like to join these girls? | Source

Things to Think About

  • There is no specific afterlife message given in this book, except that life does go on, and can provide healing.

  • God is mentioned in a vague, Protestant kind of way, but the Gospel is not.

  • This story is a good piece of literature with which to spark conversations about death and the afterlife with your child, and would be easy to read aloud.

  • Forgiveness is a central theme, though how to forgive is not explained.

  • Anger is a recurring theme as well, and is dealt with in a straight-forward, no frills kind of way, which neither turns it into a virtue nor a bogeyman.

  • The subject of time swaps and overlaps is a deep topic, but worthy of attention. I feel, for this reason alone, that this is an important book for anyone who has experienced ghostly encounters, time disturbances, or other paranormal phenomena. These topics are dealt with tenderly, but without undue stress on their strangeness - for the author, they clearly aren't strange.

Leather Doll Repair

What Do You Think Of This Author?

1) Have you ever read any books by Mary Downing Hahn?

See results

Rare (And Strange) Antique Dolls

Ghostly Encounters

2) Have you had ghostly encounters which remind you of Ashley's?

See results

© 2018 Joilene Rasmussen

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