Poor Tom's Ghost, by Jane Louise Curry (Atheneum, 1977, 178 pages)
Thirteen year old Roger pinned great hopes on the old house near London his Aunt Deb left his father. He imagined that it would actually be a home--for years his life has been full of uncertain strain, as his actor father Tony moved restlessly from place to place. Roger hopes that having a house of their own will make his stepmother Jo, his little step-sister, Pippa, Tony, and himself, into a safe, secure, family with a place to belong. But when they see that Aunt Deb's house is a stuccoed monstrosity that's barely habitable, his hopes fade.
Then the family set to work, ripping off strips of sagging wallpaper, tearing out moldering paneling...and gradually they unveil the Elizabethan house that had had been hidden for years. And other, darker, secrets begin to surface too.
Roger is awakened on his first night by the wild grief of restless ghost. Tom Garland, an actor at the Globe Theatre, haunts the house...and as the days pass, his spirit begins to merge with Roger's father, Tony. Tony's performance of Hamlet reach a new level of wonderful authenticity, but the dark side of Tom Garland's story threatens to shatter Roger's hopes for peace in the present.
Gradually Roger himself finds himself drawn into the past, to 1603, living within Tom's younger brother as a centuries-old tragedy is played out in plague stricken London. Unless Tom can set things right in the past, Tom Garland's ghost will never rest.
This is just quite simply a lovely time travel story. The past comes gradually into the story like an incoming tide...slowly pulling the characters in the present back into time. The ghost story aspects of the present and Roger's experiences back in 1603 are both delightfully spooky and full of tension.
I love just about any old house fixing-up story, and this part of the book was a real treat, but what makes this book stand out is the finely drawn characterization of young Roger. He's a lonely, tense, and apprehensive boy, desperately hoping for peace and stability, and Curry does an excellent job using the events of the past to push Roger (and his family) into a new, safer place.
In short, this is one of those lovely books that I not only would have loved as a child, but enjoyed very much reading for the first time as a grown-up! Although it was written 35 years ago, it doesn't feel dated--Roger's emotions are timeless, and, since the old house has no modern conveniences anyway, they wouldn't have been able to go online and look up its history anyway. Instead they have to look through the parish registry by hand, as it were. (Which makes me wonder how many Elizabethan parish registries are available online....which in turn leads me to wonder if anyone has written a time travel book in which google searches are important).
And now I must go back and re-read The Black Canary, which was a prequel, written several years later, to this one.