The Old Willis Place
Mary Downing Hahn (Juvenile Fiction)
There are just two rules that siblings Diana and Georgie Eldridge have to follow: don’t let anyone see you and do not leave Oak Hill Manor. But after the terrible thing happened, there would be many more rules to come. All of these rules were easy enough to abide by until the new caretaker of the old Willis place arrived with his daughter. Things would quickly get a lot more complicated. Caretakers came and went (there were too many to count), but this one had a daughter—a daughter the same age as Diana. Diana wanted a friend so badly, that she was willing to break any rule just to have one. But at what cost?
This is a ghost story with some surprisingly heavy themes given that it is written for ages 7 to 12. Besides dealing with theft, trespassing, and murder, we are given an older sister who, by selfishly putting her own wants and needs above all else, puts both herself and her younger brother in danger. She lies to her sibling not once, but several times and flirts with severing the bond of trust that the two share. Once trust is broken, can it ever be fully restored again?
This book is filled with plenty of action and suspense and, despite some scary and disturbing bits at the end, younger readers will become enthralled and immersed in this wonderfully spooky ghost story. What I like most about this book is that Hahn delivers a powerful moral message that readers of any age can appreciate. Despite suffering from separation, grief, loneliness, and fear, Hahn gives us two children who demonstrate the importance and value of extending mercy to the unworthy and offering forgiveness to the undeserving. And that isn’t scary at all.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com