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The Old Willis Place: A Ghost Story

by Mary Downing Hahn


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Starred Review. Gr 5-8–Diana and her younger brother, Georgie, have been living on the grounds of the old Willis place for oh, so long. They've seen caretakers come and go, but the new one seems different. Mr. Morrison has a daughter, Lissa, who seems to be about Diana's age. Both girls are lonely and long for a friend but Georgie reminds Diana that it's "against the rules" to have friends; that they must remain out of sight. But Lissa remains intriguing to the children. She not only has a bicycle, but she also has many books and a stuffed animal that reminds Georgie of one he once had. They share even more; Lissa, too, has suffered a huge loss. Masterfully constructed, the story shows readers the same events from the perspectives of both girls; Diana narrates, and Lissa writes in her diary. The combination builds tension, raises questions, and allows characters–and the mysteries that surround them–to unfold gradually. The story is taut, spooky, and fast-paced with amazingly credible, memorable characters. More than just a ghost story, this riveting novel is a mystery and a story of friendship and of redemption. After this tale, readers are not likely to think of ghosts in the same way.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at Washington DC Public Library

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From BookList, September 1, 2004, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

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Gr. 4-7. Hahn is a master at stretching the suspense, and that's what she does here. Diana and her little brother, Georgie, watch as the caretaker and his daughter move into a trailer near the decaying Willis mansion. The children have seen caretakers come and go, but Diana, who has no friends, is tempted by the sight of a girl her own age. Hahn unfurls the story slowly, but because of the subtitle, readers will know there's a ghost. They'll assume it's wicked Miss Willis, who died in the house, but soon they'll start wondering about Diana and Georgie, too. Where are their parents? What are these arcane rules they seem to live by? To Hahn's credit, children won't be entirely sure of the answers until the very end. Some of the action is told through Lissa's diary. Most of the time this works, but it's too bad the climax is revealed this way as the device puts a barrier between readers and the action. Kids will love this anyway: it's just the right mix of chilling and thrilling.
IleneCooper.

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