Welcome to another Middle Grade Monday! I spent the weekend reading some spooky middle grade books and I’m going to discuss three of them today.
Growing up, I was a big fan of spooky books and unlike the person I have become now, literally any spooky book scared the pants off me as a kid. I’m still scarred over a Goosebumps book that I vaguely remember in which a kitchen sponge came to life.
One of my favorite spooky middle grade writers has been Mary Downing Hahn. I’ve read a number of her books and the two that I read over the weekend were an older one, Deep and Dark and Dangerous, which was published in 2007; and The Girl in the Locked Room, which was published in 2018. (I stole… borrowed… the latter book from my youngest brother and the former was one that I had in my collection from childhood).
I think that overall Hahn is a master at crafting spooky books for young readers. My sister and I devoured so many of her books. Old Willis Place, The Doll in the Garden, and Wait Till Helen Comes were among our favorites. I’d really like to get my hands on those sometime soon to reread!
Of the two books that I read this weekend, I would recommend The Girl in the Locked Room for younger readers. It’s the story of a ghost who has been trapped in a room for over a hundred years and finally meets a girl who may be able to help her. This story was really well done, had me hooked from the beginning and was interesting enough to keep me on the edge of my seat through the end. It was low on the spooky side of things, more mysterious than outright scary which I think will be appreciated by those who don’t like to get jumpy. The ending was fascinating, though I personally would have wanted it to end slightly differently than what was written.
After rereading Deep and Dark and Dangerous, I found myself disliking the story a lot. The story follows a girl named Ali who has been brought on by her aunt to baby sit her younger cousin at the lake cottage that their family used to visit when her aunt and mother were children. There, Ali and her cousin meet a mysterious girl named Sissy and the painful story of the past begins to reveal itself. It’s definitely spooky but the characters are unlikable, absolutely horrid in cases and it just felt jaded. It actually had a lot of the aspects of the first book that I read this weekend which was Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh which I would like to recommend instead.
Both of these stories had violent ghosts, unbelieving parents, and older kids trying to save younger ones. Spirit Hunters follows a girl who has moved with her parents and siblings to a new house. From the moment they arrive, something feels wrong and the rumor is that the house is indeed haunted.
While I didn’t personally love Spirit Hunters, I 100% understand why so many people do! I think it would definitely have scared the pants off me as a kid and if I wasn’t such a picky adult it probably would’ve spooked me a bit now too. This book has a diverse cast of characters and is #ownvoices for the Korean American rep. I don’t want to say that this felt like an adult trying to write a middle grade book for the first time, but that’s exactly what it felt like. At times it felt like it was trying way too hard to be a middle grade book and I think that’s what kept me from enjoying it as much as I could have. But if you’ve got a kid who wants to get that real haunted house story, definitely have them give this book a try! It had all those scary vibes and was a tense ride as things played out.
I’m interested to see where the Spirit Hunters series goes and will be checking out the second book whenever that is published to see if it happens to grow on me.
I think that young readers would be fans of any of the books of mentioned in this post but I highly recommend The Girl in the Locked Room for mysterious ghost story vibes and Spirit Hunters for that classic haunted house story.
Next week I’ll be discussing a new release so be sure to check back again next Monday!