3 yellow roses

A Book I can Highly Recommend

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel

the first in a series by Lois Gladys Leppard
published by Bethany House Publishers

Titles 2 - 10 are:
Mandie and the Cherokee Legend
Mandie and the Ghost Bandits
Mandie and the Forbidden Attic
Mandie and the Trunk's Secret
Mandie and the Medicine Man
Mandie and the Charleston Phantom
Mandie and the Abandoned Mine
Mandie and the Hidden Treasure
Mandie and the Mysterious Bells

This series for girls ages 9 - 12 has been around for about 20 years. Several generations of girls have read them fondly, collected them or borrowed and traded with friends so they could read as much of the set as possible.

But I have only come to them late in my life, well into my 50s, and so my joy is still fresh. Now, I'm a writer myself, so it didn't take me long to spot a few weaknesses, but over all, the first 10 books I've read were like a box of chocolates, as soon as I'd finished one, I was reaching for the next Mandie book.

Two things I would do differently if I were writing this series.

One, Mandie's kitten called Snowball, would be a cat by the second book. Most pre-teen girls must also recognize that a kitten is only a kitten for a few weeks. Two months? Each mystery or adventure takes place over a few weeks or a month. I found one online bookstore, ChristianBook.com, that carries them up to # 38!

I told myself that perhaps where the author grew up all cats are referred to as kittens. Somehow that didn't settle it for me though.

Secondly, while the dialogue for the black servants in the stories sounds quite authentic, that of the Cherokee Indians strikes me as odd. They skip words and speak in phrases rather than complete sentences, but otherwise they pronounce all the big English words perfectly. People who speak English as a second language generally have something of an accent, and will throw in the odd word from their mother tongue.

As an adult I recognize that the plot has to be kept fairly simple, yet the characterization of Mandie and the main characters in her life are done well enough to make them seem quite real.

Even the adventures and mystery-solving, which might seem idealistic and coloured a bit too vividly for a mature adult, I can see are just right for a pre-teen girl, and since I enjoyed them, perhaps I haven't fully grown up after all.

To sketch the main outline of the series, in the first book, Mandie is at the grave side of her father in a small back-woods community of North Carolina. Her mother uses her as a servant, and is eyeing her next husband, while her pampered older sister is keen on getting a boyfriend. All at once Mandie finds herself sent to another home to be their servant, particularly to look after a new baby.

Her father has assigned an Indian friend, Uncle Ned, to keep an eye on Mandie, and he visits her once a month by moonlight. Because her situation is unhappy, he suggests taking her to the town of Franklin to her uncle's place.

Her uncle isn't home but the servants take her in and treat her well. When word comes that her uncle had died while travelling in Europe, others show up who want to lay claim to the inheritance.

This is where the curious Mandie and her next door friend, Polly, take to exploring a secret tunnel and hidden rooms upstairs. In the end, her Uncle John appears, having hidden with Uncle Ned and his Cherokee relatives. He is able to introduce Mandie to her real mother, and reveal her true family and relatives, including the fact that she is part Cherokee, through her grandmother.

Her mother is from a high society family in Asheville, and was told her baby had died. John has been proposing to her for years, but she was still mourning her first husband, Jim. Now Mandie persuades them to marry, and she has a happy new home.

In fact, Mandie Shaw is really set free to do as she likes, and she loves to explore and find answers to problems. That's what gets her into and out of trouble throughout the rest of the series.

Going to visit her Cherokee relatives, she makes new friends, and goes exploring in a cave, only to discover gold. Mandie goes along on the train taking that gold to a bigger bank, after the Cherokee vote to give it to her, for they don't want to be tainted by it. Bandits dressed as ghosts attack the train and take away the car with the gold, but Mandie and her friends find themselves in the thick of a dangerous adventure, being kidnapped, and escaping and solving the mystery when they find the lost and hurt Uncle Ned.

Then Mandie is sent off to the finishing school her mother attended in Asheville. Here she finds new adventures when she and a room mate explore the forbidden attic, and in another volume, they discover the contents of a certain trunk.

Home for a Thanksgiving holiday she runs into a medicine man as she tries to solve why the hospital being built for the Cherokees is knocked down every night. They've just finished that when her family goes to visit friends in Charleston, and of course, there's a mysterious phantom mystery to undo.

Then back at home again for another holiday, Mandie and her friends want to know why her family's abandoned ruby mine has such strange goings on. The discovery of the story behind her aunt Ruby who died so young and tragically really touched me!

Thus the series goes on. I've finished the first ten books. I know where I can find some more.

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Ruth Marlene Friesen

Ruth Marlene Friesen
The Responsible One

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