From the Publisher
"Hahn is a master at...suspense....Kids will love this; it's just the right mix of chilling and thrilling." —BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA
"The young characters...are sympathetic and believable...Spooky, but with an underlying sweetness." — KIRKUS REVIEWS Kirkus Reviews
"Hahn's sure hand at haunting is evident...creepy and enjoyable...it'll need no ghostly assistance to fly off the shelves" —BCCB Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Masterfully constructed...taut, spooky, and fast-paced with amazingly credible, memorable characters...riveting...a story of friendship and redemption" —School Library Journal, Starred
"a mystery intertwined with a ghost story...a delicate message of guilt, forgiveness, loyalty, and friendship...a satisfying ending." —VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)
Readers looking for a mystery intertwined with a ghost story will enjoy this tale of a decaying mansion, a wicked former owner, ghosts, and a series of creepy, unexplained events. The cantankerous and unreasonable owner of the mansion, Miss Willis, died in the parlor ten years ago. The mansion has been empty since then except for various caretakers on the grounds. Diana and her brother, Georgie, live on the property of the crumbling mansion and spend their time spying on the caretakers. Because of some unexplained rules, the siblings mysteriously must always remain hidden and are fearful of their puzzling secret being revealed. Diana is tempted to break the rules when a new caretaker and his daughter, Lissa, arrive. Diana and Georgie sneak into the caretaker's home and yard and "borrow" books, toys, and other items that interest them. Lissa tries to explain to her father that some of her personal items are missing, but they cannot find a reasonable explanation. Eventually Lissa glimpses Diana and accepts an invitation to meet her on the veranda of the mansion. As their friendship evolves, Lissa is surprised that Diana and her brother are only familiar with movies, songs, and books that were popular in the 1930s. She attributes their odd behavior to strict fundamentalist parents. Lissa is fascinated with the mansion and recruits a frightened, reluctant Diana to break into the house with her. The consequence of their actions releases a vindictive ghost, solves a mysterious disappearance, and unites a family. Hahn uses suspense, action, superstition, and mystery to keep readers interested. There is a delicate message of guilt, forgiveness, loyalty, and friendship, and although the story ispredictable, it has a satisfying ending. Readers who enjoyed Hahn's Doll in the Garden (Clarion, 1989) or Kathryn Reiss's Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge: A Ghost Story (Harcourt, 2004/VOYA review this issue) will find this tale appealing. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2004, Clarion, 199p., Ages 11 to 14.
Acclaimed novelist Mary Downing Hahn serves up great spooky fare in The Old Willis Place. Twelve-year-old Diana and her little brother, Georgie, are bound by rules. They can't have playmates or travel beyond a certain area or go into the house where Miss Willis lived and died. But when Lissa and her father move into a nearby house, Diana starts breaking the rules. She and Lissa become fast friends. When she mistakenly releases the ghost of the evil Miss Willis, Lissa comes to realize she is the only person who can rescue the children from danger. The characters are exceptionally well drawn, the pacing masterful and the climax gripping and poignant. 2004, Clarion, Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Diana and Georgie have been living wild, depending only on each other. They remain hidden, never leaving the grounds and never entering the derelict house. Longing for more companionship, Diana decides to befriend the new caretaker's lonely daughter. But the friendship leads to complications and danger. When Lissa leads Diana into the old house, she unwittingly unleashes the spirit of the old woman who lived and died there. With carefully incorporated clues, the reader comes to the realization that the frightening old woman is not the only ghost. Diana and Georgie are ghosts of children who died a terrible death in that house long ago. Diana is the primary narrator, with Lissa's diary entries providing alternate views of the events. The young characters, both human and spirits, are sympathetic and believable. There is even a moral here: that love and forgiveness can lead to everlasting peace. Spooky, but with an underlying sweetness. (Fiction. 10-12)
Read an Excerpt
The Diary of Lissa Morrison
Dear Diary, Is this how you start? I never kept a diary before, so I’m not sure. Up till now I thought my life was too boring to think about, let alone write about, but that’s changing. This is the second day Dad and I have spent here, and already strange things are happening. First of all, the old Willis House is the creepiest place you ever saw. It’s got to be haunted. Dad says the old lady who owned it was really eccentric, maybe even crazy. Anyway, she died in the house—in the front parlor where she slept because she got too old to climb the steps to her bedroom. She lay there dead for a week before anyone found her. Ugh. It seems like the perfect setup for a ghost, don’t you think? She died there—all alone. Think about it. I can almost see her, can’t you? A weird old lady, white hair, a scary face, roaming around from room to room, up and down the steps, watching, waiting—oooh, I’m scaring myself. Do you believe in ghosts, Dear Diary?
Dad definitely doesn’t. I talked to him after dinner about Miss Willis—that’s the old lady’s name—and I asked him if he thought she haunted the house. He laughed. I hate it when he laughs at me. Like he thinks I’m silly. Or dumb maybe. If my mother was here, I know she wouldn’t laugh—but she died when I was so little I can hardly remember her. Someday I’ll write more about how much I miss her, but I don’t want to make myself feel sad. So I will just say I wish she was here right now and we were sitting close together reading a book or something.
I know this sounds odd, Dear Diary, so don’t tell anyone, but I’d love to see a ghost—just to know for sure they exist. I wouldn’t be scared. At least, I don’t think I’d be. How could a ghost actually hurt you? They’re just ectoplasm or something, not solid.
Maybe it’s because of my mother; maybe that’s why I wonder so much about what happens when you die and where you go and if you can stay on earth for a while. I’d really like to know. Now here’s something else to tell you, something different. Not supernatural but scarier in a way because it’s real. The first day we came to the farm, there was someone in the woods spying on us. Kids maybe. I’m sure of it. I could feel them watching me. I swear my scalp prickled. I had the same feeling while we were eating dinner last night—they were back, spying again. I told Dad, but he says it’s my imagination. I’m in a new place, I’m not used to woods all around, I hear birds and squirrels and think they’re people. The way he talks, you’d think I didn’t have an ounce of sense. Maybe I should give Dad some of my spare imagination. It might help him finish that book so he can get a better job and we can live in a house with a yard and neighbors and I can go to school and have friends— instead of spies in the woods.
But that’s not all—someone stole my bike last night. Dad can’t blame that on birds or squirrels! We searched all over, but there’s not a sign of it. My beautiful new blue bike is really and truly gone. Dad called the police and they came out and talked to us. They said teenagers sometimes sneak onto the property and most likely that’s who took my bike. When I told them I thought someone was spying on us, one of the policemen said it must have been the same kids who stole my bike. They live in a development just across the highway from the farm. The police have had trouble with them trespassing before. The other policeman shook his head.
“Funny things happen out here,” he said. “None of the caretakers stay long. Place gives them the jitters, they say. Some of them claim it’s haunted by the old lady who used to live here. Her and the poor—” The first policeman coughed and said, “We’d better get going, Novak. We’ve got other business.” I had the funniest feeling he didn’t want us to hear what Officer Novak was about to say. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s how it always is with adults—just when someone starts telling the interesting stuff, someone else shuts him up. I glanced at Dad, hoping he’d ask Jim what he was talking about, but he was watching MacDuff chase a squirrel. Officer Novak jingled his keys and looked at me. “Don’t go too far from the trailer,” he said. “There’s no telling who might be hanging out in the woods. And stay away from the old house.” “I hear there’s a bunch of snakes in the cellar,” the first policeman said. “And the floorboards are rotten in some of the rooms.” The two of them got in the police car.
“Keep your eye out,” the first one told Dad. “If you see anytthing suspicious, give us a call.” Officer Novak looked at me as if something was worrying him, but all he said was, “That’s a real nice dog you’ve got.” We watched them drive away. I was hoping they’d turn their lights and the siren on, but they didn’ttttt. I guess they only do that in movies.
So now Dad thinks I might have been right about kids hiding in the woods, spying and stealing stuff. Three hundred acres—there must be a ton of hiding places on this farm. I’m going to look for them. If I find them, I’ll tell them to give my bike back—or else they’ll end up in jail or juvenile detention. They can’t scare me. And neither can Miss Willis.
Well, I’ve written so much my hand hurts, so I think I’ll stop and read in bed for a while. It sure is dark outside. Not a streetlight. Not a house light. Not even a headlight going past.
Your Friend, Lissa
Copyright © 2004 by Mary Downing Hahn.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
"Hahn is a master at...suspense....Kids will love this; it's just the right mix of chilling and thrilling." BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA
"The young characters...are sympathetic and believable...Spooky, but with an underlying sweetness." KIRKUS REVIEWS Kirkus Reviews
"Hahn's sure hand at haunting is evident...creepy and enjoyable...it'll need no ghostly assistance to fly off the shelves"BCCB Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Masterfully constructed...taut, spooky, and fast-paced with amazingly credible, memorable characters...riveting...a story of friendship and redemption" StarredSLJ School Library Journal, Starred
"a mystery intertwined with a ghost story...a delicate message of guilt, forgiveness, loyalty, and friendship...a satisfying ending." VOYA VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)