Tuesday, July 12, 2011
I love a good ghost story in the summertime. It must be because as a child the summer was my time to read whatever I wanted, so as far as "beach reads" go, mine must include at least one spooky ghost story. Mary Downing Hahn can always be counted on to deliver a spine-tingler, and while The Old Willis Place is one of the least conventional ghost stories I've ever read, it certainly delivers.
The story is about two children, Diana and her little brother Georgie, who live in the woods near a rambling old abandoned home. Something has happened to scare them into the woods, where they've been living on their own for years. Their one source of entertainment is spying on the succession of caretakers who periodically appear but are easily frightened away. It is only when caretakers are in residence that the siblings can watch a little television, by peering through the window, although for the most part the caretakers are fairly uninteresting people.
But when the new caretaker pulls into the drive, a man with a daughter just about Diana's age, everything changes. For one thing, the caretaker's daughter Lissa brings with her fascinating items such as a bicycle, and interesting books that Diana and Georgie have never read before. And for another, Lissa actually seems to want to be friends with them.
But Diana and Georgie live by a mysterious set of rules, and Georgie wants nothing to do with Lissa. After so many years with just her little brother for company, Diana can't help but be drawn to the other girl, even though she can tell that dark forces are stirring in the dreadful old house.
I don't want to give too much away - astute readers will quickly guess the true state of affairs at the old Willis place, but even they will be in store for some twists, turns, and dark surprises. This is a bittersweet tale, as all the best ghost stories are, with compelling characters and an unforgettable setting. My ten-year-old picked it up after I finished reading it, and she enjoyed it immensely as well.
The Old Willis Place: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion Books, 2004)
Also reviewed at:
Book and a Garden: "Author Mary Downing Hahn has redefined the words “ghost story.” Her novel is peopled with believable characters readers will care about and remember long after they have read the last page."
Books We Love: "This is a great ghost story that makes me happy that I don’t live in the woods, or near an abandoned mansion!"
It's All about Books: "It's a ghost story, with lots of chilling parts, but not TOO chilling, perfect for kids I'd say. Lots of twists and turns and surprises."