Narrator Elspeth is a disturbed child--or rather, apparently, an oldster looking back on her disturbed childhood (with notably stiff, old-fashioned locutions). And anyone might be jolted by this chain of dread circumstances: Elspeth's mother rejects her (just why we never know) and decamps for a new life in Australia; her loving, moody father goes mad; her understanding grandmother is killed in an auto accident. That leaves a precociously critical, all-seeing Elspeth to face life unsatisfactorily as a foster child. In a cloistered, backward village she's suspected of having the evil eye, and her foster parents boot her out when a series of minor mishaps is crowned by the near-drowning of their little son--who is also Elspeth's treasure. Unhinged by the separation even more than the injustice, she goes to a home for troubled children determined, now, ""to keep everyone at a distance and trust no one."" There, a phantom face at the turret window (which, we're advised, may have been fantasized) leads Elspeth to grim old Miss Ada Seaton, once locked away for her evil eye; and between opening up to ""Miss Ghost"" and gaining the friendship of warm, supportive, 14-year-old Pad Colquhoun (she's now 13), Elspeth comes around. But before her future can be happily settled, Pad is almost killed too--a final reminder that this self-absorbed, clinical monologue turns, as a story, on disasters. Either aspect is enough to seriously weaken the book as a psychological drama, but the combination finishes it off.