BY: GISELA WOLDENGA
The year is 1958 in Peachland, Okanagan BC. Twelve-year-old Christine meets a man renovating an old house in her neighborhood and immediately feels a bond between them. Even though her mother reacts strangely after hearing the man’s name, Christine visits Jim often after school and learns a lot about flowers and gardening. She is heartbroken when he suddenly leaves without a good bye and is determined to find out where he is and why he left. As she unravels the mystery, dark secrets are revealed that make her uncertain if Jim will even want to come back.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: The Old House by Gisela Woldenga is an intriguing story about a little girl named Christine who is curious about the mysterious stranger named Jim who has just moved into the house down the street. This curiosity, as well as her mom’s strange reaction to hearing his name, and Christine’s own personal feeling that she knows him from somewhere, set her off on a daring journey to find out who he is and why he is there.
I found the book hard to put down and was as curious about who Jim was as Christine. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I found the wholesome goodness mixed in with this little girl’s daring plans to find out who Jim really was—and where he suddenly disappeared to—to be very interesting. It kept me turning pages. I normally get bored easily with books. I tend to put then aside and then read on later, but I actually read this book in two days because it was so hard to put down. I kept formulating ideas in my mind as to who Jim would really turn out to be. All in all, a very enjoyable book.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Old House by Gisela Woldenga is classified as a young adult, although I would probably classify it as an adolescent, since it seems to be geared more toward middle school and early high school than late high school and beyond. Still, it is a heart-warming and very moving story of a young girl’s quest. The story revolves around Christine, a young girl who is inexplicably drawn to a new neighbor down the street. Even though her mother reacts strangely to the man’s name and tells Christine not to bother Jim, Christine can’t seem to stay away. Then when Christine’s father dies of a heart attack and Jim suddenly disappears, Christine’s world is turned upside down. There is nothing she can do about her father’s death, but she is determined to find out where Jim is and convince him to come back. Her daring adventure to solve this mystery is both cleverly written and touching.
The Old House is short and can be read in an afternoon. At least I did it that way. I quite enjoyed it. And while I am not sure I would call it a page-turner, it certainly was an engaging read
Mom, someone is moving into the old house on Vicary Road!” Twelve-year-old Christine bounded up the stairs of the porch and into the kitchen. “I saw a moving van and people carrying stuff inside.”
“Oh, good.” Her mother turned around. “About time someone took care of it.”
“It better be a handyman,” her father said. He had come up from the cellar carrying a bunch of carrots. “It needs a lot of doing, the house, the garden.”
The old house at the end of Vicary Road had been empty for many years. Christine had never seen anyone living there. Other kids in her neighborhood thought it was haunted and avoided the place. Now the garden was over-grown and the trees stuck out their branches, wild and crooked. At night they looked like scrawny arms.
She nodded. “Yeah, I wonder who the people are.”
After school the next day, Christine couldn’t curb her curiosity. She went to the house and stood by the sagging fence. She couldn’t see anyone. Were there kids, a mother and father? Why weren’t they playing outside? Christine pushed against the rusty gate and took a few steps into the garden. Then she saw the door open. A man stepped out. He waved to her.
“Hello there! Want to come have a look?”
Christine rubbed her nose and hesitated. Mother had always warned her. “Don’t go with strange people.” But this man had a big smile and was rather handsome, though, of course, old. If she didn’t go too close it should be safe. She decided to find out who he was and walked along the path towards him. He put out his hand.
“My name is James, Jimmy to some. The Jimmiest guy you can find.” He laughed.
Christine stayed back a bit. “I’m Christine. I live down the street. How come you moved here?”
“Well, someone has to look after this place. It has been standing empty for too long and it’s in a bit of a mess now, but I’ll put it back into shape.” He swept his arm through the air. “All this will take a while. Come by any time, okay?”
Christine nodded. “Okay. See you.” She waved and went on her way home. He’s all by himself, she thought, nobody to help him. Maybe Dad can on weekends. He’s a handyman. She skipped up the steps to her house. “Mom, I met the new man in the old house!”
Her mother’s voice came from the living room. “You did? You were nosy again.” She appeared in the kitchen and threw a hand full of wilted flowers into the trashcan. “Didn’t I tell you to be careful with strangers?”
“Don’t worry, I was, but he’s all by himself and he is very friendly. His name is James—or Jimmy.” Christine laughed. “He said he was the Jimmiest guy in the world.”
Her mother turned around suddenly with a startled look on her face. “Jimmiest guy, he said?”
“Yeah, isn’t that funny?” Christine wondered why her mom was so surprised and why her eyes had gotten so big.
As her mother busied herself at the sink, Christine kept on. “Maybe Dad can help him with the house some time, because Jim has no one else.”
Her mother stopped for a moment. “I don’t think so. People want to do their own thing, have their own ideas. Besides, he could get help if he wanted to. There are plenty of men in town who want to earn extra money.”
“Maybe he is too poor for that. I can ask Dad,” Christine persisted. Mother didn’t answer. “I have a project for school. I better start on it.” Christine ambled down the hall into her room. Why had her mother acted so funny when she heard the man’s name? Tomorrow she would do some investigating and try to find out his last name and where he came from.
School took longer than usual the next day. Christine’s class had to present a play at the end of the school year. Miss Web, her teacher, had written it herself and wanted to select the students for the different roles. Christine had hoped to get the leading part, but teacher decided she needed a smaller girl for it. So Christine ended up with the role of the mother.
“Not to worry,” Miss Web consoled her. “You have lots of lines to learn. It’s an important part.”
Christine sighed. “All right. As long as it’s important.”
Inwardly she grumbled. Why not Helen? She’s bigger than me, much better as a mother. But Helen couldn’t memorize very well. She always had trouble reciting poems. Christine grabbed the pages of the play and started on her way home.
Now to find out more about Jim.
When she arrived at the old house her eyes popped. What had happened here? The wobbly fence and rusty gate had disappeared and she saw a large heap of new wood and planks on the ground. She also noticed big bald patches where high weeds had been. Wow, she thought, Jim had been busy. And there he was, already waving at her.
“Want to help?” he called.
“How did you do all this?” She scrambled over some old fence posts.
“Well, the day has twenty-four hours and I sleep for six of them, so I had lots of time. Want an orange?” He pointed to a bottle of Orange Crush.
“Yeah, sure, thanks.” Could she ask him? Mother would say she was too forward. But how else could she find out? “Where do you come from and why come here?”
Jim took a moment. “Last stop was in Toronto. Construction and landscaping. But it gets too cold in the winter, only good for snow shoveling. I like it better here in the Okanagan. The weather is nice and in the winter I can work inside the house. It needs a lot of repairs.”
Next step. “What’s your last name?”
Jim laughed. “What’s yours?”
“Willard, Christine Willard.”
Jim took a drink out of his bottle and then he smiled at her. “Okay, fair enough. It’s Hansen, James Hansen. But don’t tell anyone else.” He winked at her.
“You want to stay incognito?” Christine was proud to use the new word she had just learned today. “Is someone after you?”
Jim shook his head and chuckled. “Don’t worry, I didn’t escape from anyone. I just need to work alone for a while at something useful.”
Christine got up. “I better get home. Mom will be waiting. See you tomorrow?”
He got up and grabbed his tool bag. “Right on. Careful climbing over the wood.”
On her way home Christine wondered: Can I tell Mom and Dad the man’s name? He asked me not to. But Mom and Dad weren’t strangers, they were her parents. They probably didn’t care anyway. She was about to run up the porch steps when the door opened. Dr. Merrit? What was he doing here? He smiled at Christine.
“Hi Christine. How are you?”
“Fine.” She got worried. “Why are you here?”
“Your father had a bit of a spell. He’s resting now, he’ll be all right. Your mom will tell you all about it.” He patted her shoulder. “Stay healthy, okay?”
Christine watched him striding down the street. She had known Dr. Merrit forever. He would come when she had the flu or the measles. Mom went to him because of her headaches. How come Dad was sick? She opened the door and called. “Mom? Where are you? What’s wrong?”
Her mother closed the bedroom door softly behind her. “Shh! Dad’s sleeping. He will be fine. He came home and felt very weak. Dr. Merrit said his heart was slow.” She shrugged. “Whatever that means. He wrote out some prescription.”
Christine didn’t know what to think. “In school we learned that the heart has to beat regularly or else—”
“Dr. Merrit told me we have pills now to help. So don’t worry. I’m going now and get them from the drugstore. Go do your homework. I’ll be right back.” Mother grabbed her purse and disappeared down the steps.
Christine stood for a moment. She rubbed her nose. Dad would get better, the medicine would help. But how sick was he really? She crept down the hall and opened the bedroom door as quietly as she could. Her dad was sleeping but he looked pale. She had never seen him like this. Whenever he took a nap on the couch his cheeks were rosy. She stood for a while staring down at his still face. “Get better soon,” she whispered, then tiptoed out of the room and closed the door. Tomorrow I’m going to ask the teacher what a slow heart means.