Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review of The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, by Mary Downing Hahn


(Clarion Books, September 6, 2010)

After reading this middle-grade novel, it becomes clear why Mary Downing Hahn is such a popular author and has won so many awards. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is a deliciously written gothic story, hovering over that “safe,” fine line that exits between the mildly scary and horror.

Twelve-year-old Florence has spent the last seven years of her life in a London orphanage. Then, one day, her rich Uncle James sends for her, and she goes to live in his mysterious old mansion in the English countryside. Besides her uncle, her Aunt Eugene and her cousin James also inhabit the house. Unlike her uncle, who is warm and kind, her aunt is a cold, severe middle-age woman.

Florence isn’t able to have any interaction with James because, for some mysterious reason, he is bedridden and unable to receive visits. Everybody in the house, including the few servants, seems to be under the dark memory of Sophia, James’ 12-year-old sister, who died tragically one year before.

Not long after Florence moves in, she realizes there’s a supernatural presence in the house, none other than Sophia’s ghost, with whom Florence shares a striking resemblance. Thus begins the dark “friendship” between the girl and the ghost. Evil and manipulative Sophia has her own agenda, and she wants Florence to help her achieve her goals. Will Florence be strong enough to fight Sophia’s revengeful and controlling will?

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is filled with tight yet evocative, lyrical prose that appeals to the senses.

“The wind rustled the leaves and blew through the grass on Sophia’s grave. Its sound was as low and sad as the mourning doves calling to one another on the church roof.”

There is a threatening, chilling tone throughout—enough to keep readers on the edge of their seats without giving them too much horror. Though the story wouldn’t really be scary for 12 year olds, 9 year olds might be slightly affected by it.

The author’s carefully chosen descriptions serve to create the perfect atmosphere for this engrossing, historical ghost story. The characters are distinct and interesting in their own way. Florence is a smart, practical young girl who will capture the imaginations of middle-grade readers. The novel has a little of Wuthering Heights, The Secret Garden, and Rebecca in it.

For this reviewer, it was a wonderful experience discovering this talented author.

**My review previously appeared in The New York Journal of Books. www.tips-fb.com

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