Searching for Lincoln’s Ghost: Barbara J. Dzikowski
The 60’s were a time of great change for our country. Racial tension was often high and the division between black and white quite wide sometimes even reverting back to the time of the Civil War. Children in school relived many of the battles in their classrooms, the Viet Nam war was in the news and the assassination of President Kennedy sadden our country. Andi Powell lived in world filled with bullying, prejudice, death and longing to be accepted by her peers. Losing her parents in an accident and being brought up by her grandmother whose pastime was thinking and obsessing about death, Andi struggled with her own private demons. Wanting the answer to one simple question: “Is there life after death,” she went on a pursuit to find the answers even praying on rosary beads and wishing that God would answer this one question for her. But, something happens in her school to one student and things change as one young girl claims to have seen the ghost of Abraham Lincoln setting off a chain of events that would change Andi’s life.
Castalia Lincoln Elementary School graduated two sixth graders that swore they saw the ghost of Lincoln in the school’s auditorium. But did they? Forced to be separated from her best friend and other classmates from the previous year Andi needs to find a new balance in her life while she searches for answers to her questions. Hoping to seek out Lincoln’s ghost to ask him many questions about his life, his family and life after death instead she ignites the image of John Malone whose secret when revealed changes things for not only Andi but others too.
Andi enjoys learning about Lincoln in her class but what she dislikes is the cruelty inflicted on her and others by some of the students. She is smart, adventurous and finds herself going from school to Ezra’s Bait Shop where her best friend Alfreda goes to get special candy.
Isolation, acceptance, fear sometimes creates a void within the inner walls of your mind. Reckless decisions or one spur of the moment and lives shattered. Andi reaches readers allows us within the framework of this novel by author Barbara J. Dzikowski, as she hopes we understand her feelings, experiences and emotional conflicts joining her on this journey to find not only if Lincoln’s Ghost really visits her school but if there is truly life after death.
Reliving the funeral of a friend that occurs at the start of this compelling novel, we hear about John Malone in more detail, can envision his face in his coffin as we learn more about her year in grade 6, being isolated from her closest friends and forced to deal with some difficult students and a new teacher. Bright, energetic, inquisitive and yet insecure in many ways Andi and her grandmom recount the moments before the tragic accident that took her parent’s lives and how this would forever impact them both. With her grandmom’s amethyst rosary in her hands she began praying as early as in the first grade hoping to learn more about heaven, where her mother might be and life after death. But, one incident that is related by a young girl named Janine brings her hope that Lincoln’s Ghost just might visit 6th graders and her quest to see him continues. With the focus on Lincoln and the history of the Civil War and its impact on her home state of Indiana you might say she is pumped and ready to learn more.
A young girl’s life surrounded by death and an elementary school that holds many secrets. As we meet the students in her class, Mr. Banner who seems to spend a lot of time paddling young boys who misbehave and a class project that Andi hopes will shed some light on her quest.
School is supposed to be a safe haven but not always as we meet Bertha Riggs and learn about the pleasure she gets tormenting Andi and others. Enter John Malone a quiet, handsome yet puzzling young man.
Entering the classroom as we hear three accounts of paranormal events related to Lincoln we learn about his wife’s premonition, his dreams and what are thought to have occurred with his son’s coffin. The end result and what Mrs. Lincoln sees, Lincoln’s own dreams and the final resting place of a coffin and more you won’t get from me since I promised Mr. Lincoln I would not tell.
Ezra Bait Shop housed more than just fishing gear, tanks, and night crawlers and just about anything anyone needed. It was the home of you might say great candy that brings back tons of memories. How can you resist a great big Sugar Daddy or slow poke suckers, counters filled with sugary delights and a man named Ezra Zachariah Thompkins whose wisdom and intelligence far surpasses most adults. His insight into the character of most kids, the understanding he shows of Andi’s fears, insecurities and the way he embraces her questions makes you wish that this man was around when you were growing up. When Andi explains how she views herself and that she wants to be the prettiest, smartest and bravest: or EST in the world he explains it quite simply: Everyone is here for reason and each one of us is special. When she is happy with just being herself and who she is than she will be the best :EST!
Lincoln’s image comes through in many respects as you hear his voice when he relates his dreams, the description the author shares of his appearance and the hope of one young girl to see him.
Racial tensions rise, prejudice is seen as the interaction between the students of different races often culminates in insults, fights and harsh words. Segregation might not be a part of every school but when John and Andi cross the racial barrier of lines and visit Ezra’s Bait Shop it proves that sometimes kids can show adults the way. When Ezra promises to give Andi one thought to think about each month related to Life after death and other issues we realize the impact this man will always have on her life and that of others.
So determined to find Lincoln’s Ghost when John suggests that she stalk him what will her response be? Howard Taylor’s account or paranormal experience related to Lincoln was next adding in facts about President Calvin Coolidge and his first lady claiming that they saw Lincoln’s ghost staring out of the window of the Oval Office. The rest and there is much more you will have to read within the walls of the Oval Office or Chapter 11 as Howard entices readers with information about Harry S. Truman, Lincoln’s Ghost and who might have seen it the day before President Kennedy was killed.
Getting to know John we realize that hidden within the rough exterior is a young man who was dealt a truly bad hand filled with injustice. As we learn his secret and understand why he is attending public school, we find out about two educators and one priest who would drastically change the complexion of what happens within the halls of this school and the walls of a church. Sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior is inexcusable as the story moves to a dramatic close. Vandalism, graffiti and kids banning together to help Ezra and his explanation of why he does not hate is compelling. How do you forgive prejudice?
Middle School is where Andi is headed, changes in her life would come about as she was about to find out. Ezra was a great influence in her life but would she be able to continue the friendship? What about John? Secrets held within those that knew them, a final farewell senior trip and an author that brings to light a time period that was quite powerful in history. Visiting Lincoln’s home, the memorial and many other historical places but did she ever see his ghost? A startling revelation, the truth and one young girl’s faith in a friend would round out this outstanding story filled with historical facts, students who banned together and a tragic ending that will anger most readers and make you wonder what the answer to one simple question is: WHY? The ending ties it al together and the final words will on page 160 quite profound. Where are they all now? What happened to each one of those so close to Andi? Read this compelling and heartfelt novel and decide: Is there life after death? Did you ever see a ghost? What would you do or say to Lincoln if you saw his ghost? First loves, racial tension, abuse and friendships that just might remain forever. This is a great book for teens, middle school kids and discussion groups.
Fran Lewis: reviewer