The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn

The Doll in the Garden - Mary Downing Hahn

"You're too young to know, but the things you do when you're a child stay with you all your life."


I am so glad I revisited this book. I read it several times growing up and something about it always thrilled me. Not the finding of a buried doll - that came later - but this novella is equally a ghost story and a touching story about grief, friendship, and forgiveness.


Ashley and her mother have moved from Baltimore to a more rural town. Her father recently died of cancer and there won't be much money until her mother can finish her dissertation and get get a good job. To make ends meet they've rented the top floor of an old house owned by the cantankerous Miss Cooper who dislikes children and has a mean dog. Memorably, the first chapter is called "The Cat Hater". That night Ashley sees a white cat and the unmistakable crying of a child in the garden outside.


There's a younger neighbor girl, Alicia, who Ashley befriends and they take to exploring the overgrown garden behind Miss Cooper's house - despite warnings to stay away. In the middle of the roses the girls find a box buried with an antique doll and a cryptic letter of apology inside. Alicia had told Ashley that the garden was known to be haunted, does the doll have something to do with it?


A note on dolls (of course). The cover of this paperback shows Ashley handing Louisa what looks like a German bisque. The text talks about Anna Maria having a china head with eyes that open and shut. China and bisque are two very different things Ms. Hahn. The other dolls mentioned are well-worn two rag dolls and an actual china doll with painted hair. I was going to take a picture of a grouping (I even have one with ancient jam and tea stains around the mouth), but I lost track of time. Someday.


The ghost story itself is not a threatening one, but there is something about Ashley's visits to Louisa in the garden and the ever-encroaching darkness. The real pleasure in this book comes from the quote from Miss Cooper at top of this review and the idea, the fantasy, the book offers in the chance to correct a small wrong. Events like death are inevitable and unstoppable, but the redemption offered in this story is tantalizing and encourages the reader to make right what they can, while they still have the chance.