There's something about the summertime that makes me want to curl up with a traditional, creepy ghost story. Fond childhood memories of time spent lounging at the pool or in a shady hammock, lost in a book sending shivers down my spine, had me reaching for this novel when I happened to see it on the shelf at my library. A Mary Downing Hahn that I hadn't read yet? Perfect!
Thirteen-year-old Ali is invited by her aunt to come to the family's old lakeside cottage in Maine for a few weeks during the summer. Ali will babysit Emma, her four-year-old cousin, while Aunt Dulcie, an artist, works in the studio. It is a struggle to convince Ali's overprotective, worrywart mother to allow her to come, though. She and Dulcie have a difficult relationship, and Ali's recent questions about an old picture discovered in the attic have left Ali's mother even more worked up than usual. But Ali, with the support of her father, gains permission to go, and it first things are idyllic.
Then she and Emma meet a strange young girl on the beach, Sissy, who insinuates herself into the Ali's playtime with Emma, creating friction between the cousins and making Emma behave in unpleasant ways. To this tension is added the constant references Sissy makes to something bad that happened at the lake a long time ago, as well as the increasing number of nightmares suffered by both Ali and Emma, involving creepy images of human bones down at the bottom of the lake.
This is a fairly straightforward ghost story with engaging characters and an atmosphere of mysterious foreboding. I liked that the adults were as complex as the children, not just grownups hovering in the background to give or deny permission, but people living out the consequences of the choices they've made. I did find it unrealistic that Aunt Dulcie would never insist on meeting Sissy, whose influence on four-year-old Emma is such a clearly negative one, and whose appearance on the scene wreaks such havoc in the girls' lives. Other than that minor quibble, though, I found this to be a very enjoyable, dark and creepy summer read.
Deep and Dark and Dangerous: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion Books, 2007)
Source: My local public library
Other reviews of books by Mary Downing Hahn:
All the Lovely Bad Ones
Closed for the Season
Also reviewed at:
Book Bits: " The book is kind of creepy, as it should be, but the characters are not quite believable."
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "...it did not disappoint. Deliciously creepy, this book reminded me of the Lois Duncan stories that I loved as an early teen..."