Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, by Mary Downing Hahn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)

Recommended for ages 8-12.
Mary Downing Hahn, best known for her scary  ghost stories for young people, will be sure to please her many fans with her newest creepy tale, The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, which will be released in September.  

In this new novel, set in 19th century England, we meet ten-year old Florence Crutchfield, who has been living in a London orphanage since her parents died when she was five and no relatives came forward to claim her.  But, surprise!  After five years a great uncle surfaces, who invites her to live with him, his unmarried sister, Eugenie, and her cousin James.  In classic gothic tale fashion, Eugenie arrives at Crutchfield Hall after being soaked by a violent rainstorm.  Eugenie's first impression of the house is not a positive one:
Below me was a gloomy stone house, grim and unwelcoming, its windows dark and lifeless...a writer like Miss Emily Bronte would have been entranced by its Gothic appearance, but I hung back again, suddenly apprehensive of what might await me behind those towering walls.
Although her uncle is kind to her, her aunt takes an immediate dislike to Florence, who bears an unfortunate resemblance to her cousin Sophia, who died in a mysterious accident some time before.   With a nod and a wink to The Secret Garden, we learn that Florence's cousin James is so sickly that he never leaves his room, and Florence is forbidden to visit him.  

All is not well in Crutchfield Hall, and before Florence is even there for a day, she has a strange sensation that someone is watching her.  "A chill raced up and down my spine, and my scalp prickled."  Although her uncle insists that ghosts do not exist, Florence becomes more and more convinced that Crutchfield Hall haunted by the ghost of her cousin Sophia. And what does the ghost want from Florence?  

Florence soon discovers that Sophia is not the ideal child her aunt recreates, but rather an evil spirit who wants someone else to die in her place!  Can she bend Florence to her will, and force her to help her in her devious plans?

It is easy to see after reading this story why Mary Downing Hahn's books have sold over 2 million copies and have received more than forty child-voted state awards.  She manages to create a spine-tingling atmosphere without the novel becoming too frightening for the 8-12 year old crowd.  And you have to love the deliciously macabre cover, of a photograph of two young children (James and Sophia, we assume) in Victorian garb, with Sophia's face obscured by a splash of blood.  While ghost stories are not personally a favorite genre of mine, scary stories are perennially popular with kids, and this quick read is perfect for reluctant readers as well as fans of ghost stories.  

Release date:  September 2010

1 comment:

Amber at The Musings of ALMYBNENR said...

Your review has me hooked. I'll be reading this as soon as possible! I've never read any of the author's work before. AND I LOVE the cover!