When Willie arrives in Indian Territory, she knows only one thing: no one can find out who she really is. To escape a home she doesn't belong in anymore, she assumes the name of a former classmate and accepts a teaching job at the Cherokee Female Seminary.
Nothing prepares her for what she finds there. Her pupils are the daughters of the Cherokee elite—educated and more wealthy than she, and the school is cloaked in mystery. A student drowned in the river last year, and the girls whisper that she was killed by a jealous lover. Willie's room is the very room the dead girl slept in. The students say her spirit haunts it.
Willie doesn't believe in ghosts, but when strange things start happening at the school, she isn't sure anymore. She's also not sure what to make of a boy from the nearby boys' school who has taken an interest in her—his past is cloaked in secrets. Soon, even she has to admit that the revenant may be trying to tell her something. . . .
Gensler makes a solid debut with an eerie and suspenseful work of historical fiction in which everyone is a murder suspect. In the summer of 1896, 17-year-old Willie heads west from Tennessee when she discovers that her mother wants her to return home from school to a life of household drudgery. Willie steals her classmate's identity and accepts a position as an English teacher at the Cherokee Female Seminary in "Indian Territory," teaching girls no younger than she. The school is the opposite of what she expects: elite, challenging, and allegedly haunted by the spirit of a girl who drowned one year earlier. Willie immediately has her hands full dealing with the snobbish Bell cousins and an unforgiving principal, hiding her past (and her crush on a student), and deciphering the ghost's increasingly violent actions. The layers of detail address the complex social structure of the period, and Gensler's characters and dialogue are believably crafted. Readers should be drawn in by the mystery and moved by Willie's struggles to fit in and negotiate her independence. Ages 12 up.