Secret of the Tiger’s Eye by Phyllis A. Whitney, 1961.
Benita Dustin’s father is a writer, just like she hopes to be one day. When her father announces that they will live for a year in South Africa with his Aunt Persis so that he can do research, it sounds like a grand adventure. The trouble is that her father’s editor has given permission for her son, Joel, to accompany them because she thinks the experience would be good for him, too. Benita’s little brother, Lanny, gets along well with Joel, but Benita and Joel fight and tease each other almost constantly. Benita gets annoyed with Joel’s obsession with facts and information, and Joel thinks that Benita’s stories and flights of fancy are silly.
Aunt Persis’s house is wonderful with a beautiful tower room where Benita is allowed to stay. There is even a fantastic story about the ghost of a tiger that Aunt Persis’s husband shot years ago in India haunting the grounds of the house and the little cave in the garden. Although Joel scoffs at the idea of a tiger ghost, Benita is captivated by the story, especially when strange things begin to happen around the house. Benita learns about the tragic death of Aunt Persis’s adopted son, Malcolm, and the strange theft of the emerald diadem that Aunt Persis received from the rajah that her husband saved from the tiger years ago. However, she will need Joel’s help to make sense of the situation, a difficult prospect at the best of times but almost impossible to ask for after Joel plays a cruel joke on Benita and tries to get Lanny to help gang up on her. Then, Benita’s father tells her something that changes everything, and all the time, someone with sinister intentions is watching and waiting . . .
Besides the mystery, there is also a subplot about the nature of hate and prejudice. In South Africa, at the time the story was written, apartheid was still in force. Benita makes friends with a girl of mixed race called Charis, and they talk about racial issues in South Africa and the U.S. during the 1960s. Although Benita wouldn’t think of being prejudiced against anyone on the basis of race, she finds it harder to understand people with different personalities, like Joel. Although the story focuses on Benita and the lessons she learns, I personally found Joel and his mistakes harder to accept. Both Joel and Benita need to learn to be more understanding of each other, but in a way, I think Joel is worse because of his deliberately cruel pranks and because he already knows a couple of things that Benita doesn’t which should have influenced his behavior. But, that may be a matter of opinion. Fortunately, the two become friends when they learn to allow each other to be themselves and to appreciate each other’s good points.