goldenhornMystery of the Golden Horn by Phyllis A. Whitney, 1962.

Vicki Stewart doesn’t mean to get into trouble. However, with her mother in the hospital with a back injury and Vicki in the care of her unsympathetic aunts, she has allowed her schoolwork to slide to the point where she cannot go on to the next grade. Faced with the prospect of admitting her failure to her friends, Vicki decides that she would rather leave school early and skip summer camp. Instead, she will join her father in Turkey, where he has been teaching at a girls’ college. The prospect of going to a new country and facing her father after her humiliating failure isn’t pleasant, either, but Vicki sees it as her only path to a fresh start. Indeed, her life will never be the same.

Vicki’s father rents his rooms from Mrs. Byrne, an American living in a palace that once belonged to a pasha, along with her son, Ken, and her distant cousin and ward, Adria. Adria is about the same age as Vicki, and she has problems of her own. Adria’s parents are dead, and she has not been happy living with the Byrnes. Adria is something of a mystery to Vicki. She’s a dreamy, unpredictable girl who believes in magic spells and fortune-telling. A gypsy friend of Adria’s has told her that her fortune is to be found with a mysterious “golden horn,” and Adria’s single-minded pursuit of it has a tendency to get her into scrapes. Unfortunately, Adria also tends to drag Vicki into trouble, partly because she is convinced that Vicki’s fortune is intertwined with hers. Vicki resents these complications in her life that add to her “problem child” reputation. However, she sincerely wants to help troubled Adria. Not all of the strange things happening in the house, particularly in the spooky, disused haremlik, are Adria’s fault. As Vicki puzzles over these strange things and Adria continues her search for the golden horn, the girls gain new perspectives on their lives and their problems. The solutions aren’t as far-away and mystical as they think, but the girls will have to rely on themselves and each other to see them.

Phyllis Whitney’s books are wonderful for their colorful settings and insights on human nature. Vicki’s disappointment and embarrassment over her failure are true-to-life, and her struggle to change and redeem herself is something that everyone has experienced at some point. It’s a touching and reassuring story about how to deal with failure and life’s problems. The mystery is subtle (up until the end, you’re not quite sure how much of the trouble is Adria’s doing and what her motivations are), and the setting is vivid and engaging. Whitney has also included interesting historical details about Turkey and comparisons between the past and present (by 1960s standards) culture.

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