Monday, June 4, 2012

Deep and Dark and Dangerous, by Mary Downing Hahn

Title:  Deep and Dark and Dangerous
Author:  Mary Downing Hahn
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year:  2007
Pages:  192
Genre:  Supernatural Fantasy
Themes:  Secrets, Family, Ghost Story
Age Range:  4th through 6th Grade

Summary: (from Goodreads)
Just before summer begins, 13-year-old Ali finds an odd photograph in the attic. She knows the two children in it are her mother, Claire, and her aunt Dulcie. But who’s the third person, the one who’s been torn out of the picture?

Ali figures she’ll find out while she’s vacationing in Maine with Dulcie and her four-year-old daughter, Emma, in the house where Ali’s mother’s family used to spend summers. All hopes for relaxation are quashed shortly after their arrival, though, when the girls meet Sissy, a kid who’s mean and spiteful and a bad influence on Emma.

Strangest of all, Sissy keeps talking about a girl named Teresa who drowned under mysterious circumstances back when Claire and Dulcie were kids, and whose body was never found. At first Ali thinks Sissy’s just trying to scare her with a ghost story, but soon she discovers the real reason why Sissy is so angry. . . . 

Anyone who reads my adult book blog or visits my Goodreads profile will know that I love a good supernatural horror story.  The fact that I have read pretty much everything that Stephen King has ever written is a pretty big clue.  But my love of scary ghost stories started long before I was old enough to read Uncle Stevie...some of my favorite books as a middle grade child were The Figure in the Shadows and The House With the Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs.  Big spooky houses, mysterious noises, creepy characters-I loved being scared.  I can only imagine that Mary Downing Hahn felt similarly, since she has made quite a career of writing scary stories for young readers.

Deep and Dark and Dangerous was the perfect book for me to start my summer reading with.  The cottage that Ali and her aunt and cousin go to for the summer sounds like the perfect getaway-a cozy cottage with a light, airy studio; the cool lake surrounded by beautiful northern forests.  But Hahn quickly turns that idyllic setting into something creepy and menacing.  When Sissy shows up and starts harassing Ali and Emma it is clear that everything is not as it seems.  Soon every shadow, every noise, every bump in the night makes Ali and her family more and more unsettled.  

Despite the spooky atmosphere, the story stays just this side of being too creepy for the intended audience.  In fact, once the ghost is revealed, the story actually becomes more about doing what is right than about scaring the pants off of the reader.  In the end, the story is more about how mean children can be to each other, and how important it is to take responsibility for your mistakes.  This book would be a great addition to any classroom library.  I could even see it as part of a ghost stories theme unit.  But make sure that you read it with the lights on!

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