An odd, original story about a boy whose ghost escapes him when he's near death, then takes on a life of its own. Eli Wilson's wealthy father is as domineering and disagreeable as he is rich. So when Eli learns that his mother may be living in the forbidden swamp near his small southern town, he runs away to search for her. The ghosts of his childhood nurse, Betty, and her friend Burlene, who brought up Eli's black friend Tatum, join Tatum, Lily (another friend) and a pack of dogs to find Eli. When they do, Eli has already been rescued from a whirlpool by his mother, but not before his ghost has taken on a life of its own, getting into all the mischief that the docile Eli has always eschewed. A tidily plotted tale, with a good sense of place and brisk, sensible dialogue--somewhat reminiscent of Betsy Byars' stories, although the comic note is less sure, the chracterizations less perceptive. Himler's wash drawings are beautifully composed. An attractive, offbeat book.