Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Stonewords: A Ghost Story by Pam Conrad

Stonewords: A Ghost Story
by Pam Conrad
First HarperTrophy Edition, 1991
130 pages.
ISBN: 0-06-440354-8

Description on the book:
Zoe's best friend is a ghost.  The first time Zoe met Zoe Louise, Zoe was four years old. Zoe Louise was more than one hundred. From that day on---living in the same house, separated by a staircase and a century---Zoe and Zoe Louise have been an important and permanent part of each other's lives.

Now Zoe is older. And although Zoe Louise never grows up, she is changing in dreadful, frightening ways. Time is running out for Zoe's best friend---and Zoe is the only one who can help her. To do so, she must travel back one hundred years in time and somehow alter the past. But in changing the past, must she also change the present? If she saves her friend's life, will she lose Zoe Louise forever?

My Review:
Best friends, ghosts, time travel and a rickety old staircase---it's the magical ingredients for the adorable plot of Stonewords: A Ghost Story. I must admit, I read this book with a complete bias...I remember loving it as a child.  My copy of Stonewords has a tattered cover, yellowing pages, and a Lisa Frank sticker inside the back cover. The publishing date and sticker are clues that I probably read this book between the ages of 8 and 10, around the main character's age. Would it still hold that same magic for me years later? It definitely does.

Zoe's mom, Jessie, took Zoe to live with her Grandma and PopPop at the age of four. Jessie, who would visit once or twice a year, was eccentric and flighty to say the least: 
"She had some mighty strange ways. Like she has this one cemetery on the island she loved. She didn't know anyone buried there---they'd all been dead for over a hundred years---but my mother would walk through the grass, trailing her silk scarf, with her large straw hat shading her empty eyes, and she'd pause at each stone and read the words out loud." (page 2)
Zoe was named after one of these gravestones. The name was the only word left on a particular crumbling gravestone, no last name or dates.  Yet it took Zoe a long time to the dots between this stoneword and her first childhood friend, Zoe Louise. 

Zoe Louise was a ghost who appeared to Zoe shortly after arriving at her grandparents' house. The girls played, fought, and cherished their unique friendship.  As Zoe ages through the years, Zoe Louise stays the same.  Zoe Louise always wore the same dress and it was always the same day---her birthday spent waiting for her father to come home with her present, a pony. Zoe Louise lived upstairs through the back staircase in the kitchen that Zoe's grandparents no longer used. When Zoe follows Zoe Louise up the dark rear staircase one day, she travels back to Zoe Louise's time.  Confused and scared, Zoe doesn't want to lose her best friend, but she needs to find out what's going on.  She starts investigating what happened to Zoe Louise over a hundred years ago. Can Zoe find out the truth?  Can she change the past? 

I really like Zoe's character.  She is a smart young girl you can't help but cheer on. She's happy with her grandparents and appreciative for their role in her life.  She never quite understands her mother and fears that she will end up like her.  When she first met Zoe Louise, Zoe didn't hide the friendship from her grandparents. But as she got older, Zoe realized it wasn't normal to have an "imaginary friend" so she stopped talking about Zoe Louise.  Zoe doesn't have any other friends in the book and there's no mention of school. I found it odd that her grandparents didn't make her socialize with other children.

Then you've got Zoe Louise, who is a spoiled, sometimes obnoxious 11 year old. She's waiting for her pony and claims Zoe's toys as her own. I had to stop and remind myself during her tantrums that she's just a scared little girl who doesn't understand the circumstances either. Despite their flaws, the Zoes share a deep bond and complex friendship that influences the rest of their lives.

I enjoyed re-reading this book. The story doesn't disappoint. Conrad also wrote a sequel called Zoe Rising, which tells a new story about 14 year old Zoe at summer camp.

Stonewords is a book that I'll keep in my permanent collection in the hopes that I'll pass it on to my own children someday.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Favorite Passages:
"Probably the strongest feeling I'd ever had for her was anger. For not being a true mother. And for not remembering what she had once told me about the rosebushes." (pg. 4)

"'Zoe, dear.' It  was Grandma, just as the leg tore off the baby doll's body and Zoe Louise's invisible hand disappeared through the door. Grandma opened the door and she stood there alone. My doll was torn in two. 'Oh, Zoe. What have you done? Why aren't you more careful with your things?'" (pg. 21)

"I touched things. My headboard, the wall, the mattress, my pillow. I made sure I was real, that I didn't pass through things, that I was not a ghost. Was not a ghost. I wasn't a ghost anymore." (pg. 51)

For More Information: Stonewords: A Ghost Story on Amazon, GoodReads.

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