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What the Dead Want

What the Dead Want

by Norah Olson

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Haunting photographs and dark family secrets make this second spine-tingling novel from Norah Olson the perfect read for fans of creepy, suspenseful teen fiction.

A love of photography, an old camera, and countless questions—these are all that sixteen-year-old Gretchen has left of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared years ago.

Now she must return to


Haunting photographs and dark family secrets make this second spine-tingling novel from Norah Olson the perfect read for fans of creepy, suspenseful teen fiction.

A love of photography, an old camera, and countless questions—these are all that sixteen-year-old Gretchen has left of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared years ago.

Now she must return to the place where her mom vanished—a decaying mansion that Gretchen has suddenly inherited from her great-aunt Esther. However, Gretchen won’t find the answers she’s seeking without unraveling the secrets that lurk inside the house. There are stacks of photographs and letters from her ancestors that go back centuries, pointing to some kind of haunting past. But when proof of the mansion’s dark history appears to Gretchen in the form of ghostly visions and the soft, eerie whisper of her mother’s voice, there’s no doubt that something sinister has taken place there.

No matter how scared she might be, Gretchen must somehow uncover the reasons why this indescribable force has descended upon her family and find a way to set everyone—even the dead—free.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA, August 2016 (Vol. 39, No. 3) - Kristin Fletcher-Spear
When Gretchen is invited by her great aunt to spend the summer inheriting her mother's family mansion in the New York countryside, the city girl grabs her camera and goes in hopes of learning more about her mother since she disappeared years before. What she discovers is not a charming mansion in the country. It is neglected, haunted, and filled with her family's hoard of photographs, writings, and more of the deceased. When her aunt kills herself, Gretchen is the last in the family line, and the hauntings become more physical and more horrific. It will be up to Gretchen to discover what the dead really want, which, of course, is justice. Intertwining the Civil War-era story of her ancestor who was killed in a church fire that was deemed "an accident" that killed many of the African American population in the small community, Olson slowly brings the past to the present through the ghostly hauntings. While the journal entries are quite progressive for their era, they bring to light the darkest secrets of a small community who has tried to bury their shameful white supremacy history. The mansion and the hauntings are filled with creepy moments throughout the novel, but the climax and resolution are rushed and decisions are not clearly explained. Most interesting is the discussion of photography and the belief that souls are captured by them. For a standalone supernatural story, this is a step up with its inclusion of a dark part in American history. Reviewer: Kristin Fletcher-Spear; Ages 15 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Gretchen is a high school student looking forward to a summer in New York City when she receives a letter from her estranged great-aunt Esther. She discovers that she has inherited her family's mansion. Gretchen's mother mysteriously disappeared a few years earlier, and the teen hopes to find some answers by traveling to the Axton mansion. Gretchen is unexpectedly left alone in the house and begins to encounter ghostly visions. This tale is mostly a ghost story but also has aspects of historical fiction, as Gretchen uncovers the truth about her ancestors. She finds stacks of pictures and letters that help her piece together that her family were abolitionists who aided slaves escaping their masters. The narrative becomes a bit of a mystery as Gretchen and her new neighbors, Hawk and Hope, try to get to the bottom of what happened on the site of the mansion and why there are sinister, creepy characters in the house. The haunting truth is exposed after two hectic days, which strains credulity. Readers will be wondering why Gretchen's mother and aunt couldn't figure it out in 40 years. Fans of Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will enjoy this horror tale. Interior art often opens each chapter and is peppered throughout, adding to the haunting effect. VERDICT A title recommended for any collection in need of a unique horror story that has more than just ghosts.—Morgan O'Reilly, Riverdale Country School, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Sixteen-year-old Gretchen, whose mother, a renowned specialist in spiritualist photography, has been missing for years, inherits a derelict mansion in upstate New York. The white girl joins her great-aunt, Esther, who has been living alone there. She tells Gretchen that she will be leaving and that Gretchen must finish the work that she and her mother had started. Aunt Esther is a famous war photographer, but now she photographs what she believes to be ghosts trapped on the property. It will be Gretchen's job to discover why and free their souls. Once she agrees, Gretchen finds herself in a whirlwind of catastrophe. The ghosts originate from an atrocity committed in 1864 by the Ku Klux Klan, who deliberately burned a church full of African-American worshipers, including two little girls who have become extremely nasty and active spirits. To solve the mystery, Gretchen unites with banjo-playing black neighbor Hawk, who can also see the ghosts, and his sister, Hope. After a slow and exposition-heavy start, Olson provides chills and thrills as she concocts some truly original hauntings inside the house. Although the author depicts the Ku Klux Klan operating in the North during the Civil War, before its actual founding in the South, its anachronistic presence in the story helps to elevate the tension. A well-meaning though unsubtle ghost story. (Horror. 12-18)
“Olson uses her journalism background to great effect. Letters, newspaper clippings, and vintage photographs from Gretchen’s ancestors’ time provide added detail as Gretchen tries to solve both the racially charged mysteries of the past and the secret behind her mother’s disappearance in this atmospheric exploration of family sins.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Sharp character development means that ghost fans will attach to Gretchen quickly, investing in their ultimate success while also enjoying the creepiness of the haunted house. ”
Alyson Noël
“A riveting, addictive, suspense filled story that haunted me for days. If you’re looking for a mysterious, fast-paced, compelling read, this book delivers.”
Gretchen McNeil
“Sexy, complex, and unrelentingly tense, Twisted Fate is a dark, psychological thriller that will set your heart racing.”
Georgia Clark
“A creepy, slow-burn thriller. Olson creates a suspenseful story that gets under your skin. You’ll be thinking about it for days afterwards.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

Meet the Author

Norah Olson is a former journalist who covered criminal cases for a regional New York newspaper and received a prestigious fellowship for her work. She was educated in New England and lives in Manhattan. Twisted Fate is her first novel for young adults.

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