|Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn.|
Houghton Mifflin, 1986.
I don't think I'll ever outgrown my excitement for Scholastic book club order forms. I am just a big kid. I remember combing through them, looking at the latest paperback offerings, cool if impractical school supplies, Dynamite magazine, and movie tie-in product. Through the club, I read silly young readers' adaptations of Space Camp and The Karate Kid, Part II. My best friend and I discovered The Baby-Sitters Club. And I discovered my favorite ghost story.
A few days ago, I dug out my battered paperback copy of Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. I hadn't read it in years, but I remembered it well, probably because I read it about ten times as a fifth and sixth grader.
The story is narrated by twelve-year-old Molly, who moves with her family into an old converted church outside of a small town in Maryland. Molly and her brother, Michael, are frustrated by the move and their family in general. Their mom is a painter and Dave, their stepfather, makes pottery, and the two of them just want to move to the country and concentrate on their work. They expect Molly and Michael to play babysitter to Dave's seven-year-old daughter, Heather. Heather is a real pain. Her mother died in a fire when she was only three, but it's hard to feel sympathy for her now. She is constantly stirring up trouble, lying about how badly the older kids and their mother treat her. She acts much younger than her age. Poor Molly is stuck watching Heather most of the time, as her brother skips out every morning to collect specimens for his nature collections. To make matters worse, there is a very old graveyard on the property, and Heather is drawn to a tiny hidden grave marked only by her own initials. She talks to someone, a girl she calls Helen, and Molly is convinced that Heather has been befriended by a ghost. Of course, no one believes Molly, who seems jumpy and afraid of everything anyway. (Not just the graveyard - the nearby cows make her jumpy, too.)
I loved this book as a kid. As an adult, there are things that make me giggle now. I recognize some of more stereotypical plot conventions: old church and graveyard, ruins of an old house, etc. Moreover, I wonder how these two artists can afford this move. I want to scream at them to watch Heather themselves, instead of foisting her onto poor Molly and Michael, especially since Heather is such a monstrous little brat. The ending of the book, especially Heather and Molly's relationship, seems too neat and simple. But for a kid wanting to be spooked, this book is still rather perfect. It's scary, but not too scary.
Mary Downing Hahn is best-known today for her ghost stories. When I was a bookseller, the only books by her that lined the shelves in the Young Readers section were the scary ones, including this one with its latest cover. (I placed a hold on the other book I remember from the late '80s, The Doll in the Garden. Hope it arrives soon!) The only other book I own by Hahn is a non-ghost story, Daphne's Book, which I loved even more than this one. It's sitting on the shelf in the reading nook closet, in fact.
I know some of you probably know this one. What "scary" books did you love as a kid?
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