Mary Downing Hahn (not to be confused with Mary Lee Hahn) knows ghost stories. I enjoyed her Deep and Dark and Dangerous last year. When I was looking for a 10th book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, and I wanted something dramatic, All the Lovely Bad Ones was a logical choice. 12-year-old Travis and his younger sister Corey are sent to stay with their grandmother at her newly purchased inn in Vermont. On their first day, they learn that business hasn't been quite what she expected. When the previous owners were there, much was made of the inn being haunted, which attracted a certain clientele. Since Travis' pragmatic grandmother has been there, however, she hasn't seen a whiff of ghostly activity, and business has tapered off.
Being both helpful and mischievous, Travis and Corey decide to pretend that the inn is haunted. Corey dons a white nightgown and face paint, and shrieks at 3:00 am from a spooky grove of trees. This plan actually works, and new visitors show up at the inn as soon as the word gets out. The problem is, Corey's actions seem to have also stirred up real ghosts, one of them truly evil. Travis and Corey live to regret their light-hearted prank, and find that they have much damage to undo.
All the Lovely Bad Ones is an old-fashioned story. The setting, with children preparing to spend the summer swimming and reading and riding bikes at an old inn, all of their meals prepared by a dour but excellent cook, bore echoes of my childhood favorites like Gone-Away Lake. Only a few details are there to suggest that this is a modern-day book, like the kids watching a movie on HBO (and even then, it feels like the book could still be 20 years old, no problem, in a good way).
The idyllic summer setting, of course, gives way to creepy, supernatural happenings, which Hahn is a master at portraying. In just a few short pages, we go from this:
"Grandmother parked the truck, and Corey and I jumped out. I grabbed for my suitcase, but Grandmother said, "Leave your luggage for now. Henry can bring it in later. Martha's promised to have a pitcher of ice-cold lemonade, freshly squeezed, and a plateful of chocolate-chip cookies, still warm from the oven." (Page 3)
"Hey," I called. "I can see you." My voice sounded loud in the quiet evening--and a little high-pitched, almost as though I was scared. Which, of course, I wasn't.
No one answered. Leaves rustled, and something on the ground snapped--maybe a branch cracking under a foot, maybe an animal scurrying past unseen.
With a shiver, I left the grove and hurried back to the inn. I told myself I'd heard a squirrel or a bird. But I couldn't shake the feeling that someone had been watching me." (Page 35)
And then things get really spooky. Highly, highly recommended for middle grade fans of scary stories. I think that this book will also be appreciated by fans of old-fashioned stories, where kids are casually able to do things like bike 15 miles to town on their own.
Publication Date: March 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.