Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton (1974, also published in paperback in 2006; that's the cover shown below right). It's the story of three kids who are left to stay in Massachusetts with grandparents they've never met when their dad goes missing in Vietnam and their mother has to go to work full time. Holly, the oldest of the three, is filled with doubt. The grandparents make a living from the town dump, piecing together and mending and salvaging what is discarded, and she's old enough to find this horrifying, but not so old as to appreciate it; the twins, Judy and Crockett, are young enough to be fascinated....And Holly is also worried about being black kids in a white school. She keeps herself to herself, and tries to keep Judy safe/isolated too. And of course all three miss their mom something fierce.
The old dump is located at the edge of what was once a grand estate, now home to ruins and an overgrown maze. One night Judy dreams of it...and the next day she leads her siblings through it's twists and turns to the home of a wise-woman, named Tamar--who had lived there back in the 17th century. Tamar, wise in the shaping of thoughts into power (as well as being adept at herbal cures) is able to see into their hearts, and what she sees in Holly does not make her happy....
And indeed, Holly seems to be overtaken by angry, hurtful thoughts. She's the next to lead the kids through the maze, but she takes them to a different woman--Tamar's sister, Hagar. Who's not a nice sort of witch wise woman at all. Holly's choices almost bring disaster to the family....and also to Tamar, when she's suspected of having used her powers in a dark witchy way and a mob of Puritans comes for her. But all works out well. Especially happily, for those of us who like gardening, the maze proves to be the key that will save the land by the dump from being sold, and the grandparents from being evicted.
Past and present are nicely twisted, although there isn't a whole heck of a lot of nuance to Tamar and Hagar, and there's not a jot of explanation about their powers (which are indeed real and magical). These things have to be taken on faith.
And I could have done without the grandmother's dialecitcal English of "laws"-es and apostrophies (jus', etc.). Long, long paragraphs of this, that I worry would be off-putting to the young reader of today. And I wish we'd had a chance to see Holly opening to the possibility of friendships at school. Oh well. Apart from the grandmother's truly jarring turns of phrase, I thought Norton did a reasonable job with issues of race, making it neither too much or too little of the story.
One thing (a pedantic sort of thing) that I think Norton messed up on is Hagar's name. I was online today, reading up on Tamar and Hagar, both very interesting Old Testament women. Hagar was enslaved, raped, cast out with her son into the wilderness...but seen and saved by God, and centuries later her story resonated deeply with many African-American women (you can read more here; scroll down). Once you know this, it's a bit of a jarring note to have Hagar be the villainous one in a story starring African-American kids.
(And nothing to do with this book, but this bit of research led me on to a lovely book from 1888 called Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature, which is free online here and very diverting and worth sharing).