Sunday, October 14, 2012

The House of Dies Drear

Virginia Hamilton 1984

 I couldn't decide if I loved this book or not.  The premise is great- an African American family moves to an old historical house that was part of the Underground Railroad but has a tragic story.  The father of the family, Mr. Small, is a historian and it's interesting to experience the cultural references and the perspective that they have.  Personally I thought the writing was inconsistant, sometimes it was really really good, but sometimes I was slogging through it and felt like it was going nowhere.  As a story about ghosts and hidden treasure and secret passageways it also wasn't as exciting or scary as I expected.  But still, a worthwhile read with an interesting plot for older elementary kids.

Here's a scene from the church that Thomas and his family visit one Sunday:

It seemed to Thomas that Pesty's voice slid down from the ceiling, down the hot walls and into Mac Darrow's hands.  It seemed to him that Mac Darrow's hands were inside the sound of the choir, holding on to Pesty's voice and then letting go of it when it became too strong for them.  Her voice was like no other Thomas could remember hearing.  It was pure and strong, not like a child's, and it was sweet and good, like a girl's. 

Later Thomas and his father explore the land around the house one night.

Thomas knew where to follow.  Moving blindly, he would suddenly have the sensation that his father had left behind part of his spirit like a hand print in the air.  Thomas would stumble upon this unsettled space and would know his father had passed there.

At one point the family takes part in a ruse to trap some mischief makers.  They dress as slaves and hide in the woods waiting to appear as ghosts.

Mr. Small was dressed much like Thomas, in tatters and rags, with chains about his wrists and ankles.  The chains were read and quite heavy;  Mr. Small hugged the ground in the way Thomas did.  During the long period of time he lay there, he began to feel as though he were a slave hiding and running.  Somewhere in the back of his mind was emptiness and fear;  loneliness, the way a desperate slave would feel.

And from Old Pluto:

Halfway through the waiting, the staring, he had become afraid.  The night settled around him; the minutes hung inside him in even lengths of cold.  He felt his mind getting further away from him.  He became frightened that he might see the real ghosts of old Mr. Drear and the two slaves, as he had seen them before when he was sick and tired with despair.  There had been a time when what he saw was just the Darrows walking stealthily behind him, never too near and never too far away.  They had followed him down the years, as had those ghosts, so that, oftentimes, he couldn't tell which he was seeing.

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