Jess helps her family heal from the grief of her brother's death while at the same time helping a ghostly family from the turn of the century heal old wounds. Jess is a stubborn young girl who loves to ride horses and write. Jess's father has a restless character and often likes to move around and try new projects like running a pizza parlour, a video store and a market garden. Her father's latest project is to own Willow Creek Ranch in Calgary, Alberta where he busies himself with his first wave of guests, organizing their first horseback trek into the prairies. Jess is angry at her father for not noticing that her mother's health is failing. Ever since her brother Scotty's death, their mother hasn't been able to overcome her grief and has let it eat away at her. It is revealed that Scotty drowned while at a summer camp when a storm capsized the boat he was on. Jess feels helpless to help her mother and tries to throw herself into her duties helping her father run the ranch, though she wishes her mother would remember that she was still alive and needed her love and care. She and her dad butt heads, however, as they are both stubborn and her dad can be a bit of an insensitive bully. After being injured from being thrown off a great stallion of a horse that her dad insisted she ride, Jess is afraid of getting back on a horse. Her dad thinks she's being a wimp, however, Jess ignores him and takes care of grooming and stabling the horses, leaving her father to lead the horseback treks himself.
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One day, as Jess is returning to her house, she looks at her mom's window and notices a small white face in the window before it disappears behind some lace curtains. Jess waves automatically but then realizes there are no lace curtains in her mom's room. As the week progresses, Jess keeps hearing harmonica music coming from nowhere, and some nights, as she falls asleep, she thinks she hears the sound of boots walking around her room. Jess is worried about her mother as she sometimes hears her mother talking to herself from inside her room. Her mother has withdrawn from the world and whenever Jess tries to talk to her, she is distracted and absentminded. Jess hopes that her mother only needs some time to heal and soon she will be back to normal.
Ian Shaw is a young boy living at the turn of the century who is frail and crippled from a sickness so that he cannot walk without the aid of two canes. Because he is crippled and sickly, he is kept locked up in his room all day by his overprotective mother, whom he hates. In matters concerning him, his father does not have much say. Even when his father thinks it is alright for Ian to try riding a small pony, his mother immediately gives the pony away and forbids Ian from doing anything outdoors. His mother also takes away his journals, harmonica, storybooks and other things in order to discipline him and make his life miserable. His mother keeps speaking as if Ian will one day leave Alberta and return to their homeland in England, even though Ian loves the Alberta foothills and doesn't want to leave. Ian often overhears his parents discussing topics concerning the new ranch his father purchased. His mother is unhappy that her husband, who is an Anglican Bishop by trade, has decided to completely switch gears and move to the middle of nowhere to try his hand at cattle ranching. Their marriage is failing and Ian thinks it's only a matter of time before his mother leaves for good. One night, Ian wakes up to see a pale woman smoothing her brow – before he can figure out who she is, she disappears. Later on it is revealed that the pale woman is Jess' mom - in the present - and somehow the two times are tangled.
Meanwhile, back in the present time, Jess' mother is behaving like a crazy woman, talking to herself and embarrassing her father by appearing in public in her nightgown. One night, Jess awakens to see a strange woman wandering the halls of the house and hovering near her mother's door. Jess hopes that she was just imagining it because it is a spooky experience but she keeps seeing the same woman, who is relatively harmless and ignores Jess completely. When she talks to her mother about whether her mother has been experiencing anything odd, lately, her mother admits that sometimes she feels like Scotty is right there in the room with her and that his ghost is haunting her because she neglected to take care of him the summer he died. She tells Jess that she sometimes she sees a little boy lying in bed, crying, and she goes over to comfort him. Jess is worried that her mother might be hallucinating, but over the next few days, she observes her mother change for the better - becoming healthier and seeming to have shaken off the mantle of depression that was over her. One day, to everyone's surprise her mother appears, properly dressed and ready to help out around the house. Later that day, Jess learns that the Shaws, the family that built the ranch, were a mysterious bunch who left the ranch when their sickly son died. Jess becomes intrigued and finds Ian Shaw's diary in the attic and she reads more about his life.
Meanwhile, Ian hears his mother and father arguing over what to do with him. His father wants to let Ian roam about on the ranch but his mother wants to take Ian back to England. Ian's mother hates the ranch life and selfishly doesn't want Ian to enjoy the ranch life, either. Ian's mother ends up leaving her husband and Ian for a few weeks, much to Ian's relief. Ian spends his days with his father, exploring the ranch and riding his ponies. But this respite is brief, as when his mother returns a few weeks later, she announces that Ian is to come with her to another ranch closer to town. It is revealed that his mother is bitter that her life isn't panning out like she expected. When she married her husband, she had wanted a mansion, servants, and a classier life with a son that wasn't crippled. Ian is hurt and angry that his mother feels this way and he dreads the day she will take him away from the life he loves.
Back in the present time, Jess finally musters up the courage to learn how to ride again. She gets the help of Ben, a grumpy, scowling boy who works on the ranch. Her father's temper and bossiness softens when he sees that his wife is healing. It is revealed that her father was being so overbearing and bully-like to Jess because he himself was grieving over Scotty and couldn't even talk to his wife about the tragedy. Now that she is better, their family can communicate properly with each other and therefore heal. Meanwhile, Jess tells her mom that the boy she keeps seeing might be Ian Shaw, the son of the first family that lived on the ranch. Her mom doesn't want to accept this, preferring to think she is just hallucinating about Scotty. Jess keeps seeing visions of Ian Shaw and his father riding around the ranch as well as visions of a lady who must be Ian Shaw's mother roaming the halls.
One day, the two worlds – and the two times – collide. Jess and her mother witness the tragic horse-riding accident that resulted in Ian's death. Ian's mother had ridden angrily towards Ian and his father, bent on forcing Ian to leave with her, however they ended up colliding and Ian was bucked off the horse and trampled. Back at the house, Jess and her Mother observe the ghost of Ian and his mother. Ian's mother wants Ian to forgive her however Ian refuses to let her into his room, so the woman haunts the hallway outside. Jess' mother opens the door and takes Ian's Mother's hand and leads her into Ian's room to help them reunite and forgive each other. The story ends with the ghosts disappearing and Jess and her mother becoming closer than ever.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that there Margaret Buffie wrote the story so that there would be parallels between Ian's life and Scotty's life. It was interesting that Jess' Mom was healed when she helped comfort Ian and provide the motherly figure Ian so yearned for.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was at the end, when Jess' mother grabbed Ian's Mother's hand and brought her into the room so that the Mother and Son could forgive each other. I like that scene because I always thought Ian, being a typical self-absorbed teenage boy, didn't know that his mother really loved him and, though she was prone to being possessive and angry, was doing those things because she thought it would be better for Ian. I was glad that they forgave each other.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Jess is a stubborn and capable girl who isn't afraid to work on a ranch full of men and earn her keep.