Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh (HarperCollins, July 2017), will be one of my top go-to books from now on if I am ever asked for recommendations of middle grade horror that is scary but not scarring for life scary.

Harper's family has just moved from NY city to a big old house in Washington D.C., bought cheaply because it needs work.  And also, though they don't know it, because it is a house where horrible tragedies have happened over the years.  Even before she knows about its past, Harper doesn't like it. Though she's not aware of the extent of her gifts, Harper can communicate with ghosts, and she is about to have ample opportunity to exercise that ability when her little brother becomes possessed by an evil spirit of another little boy who lived, and died, in the house, and who turns out to be only a cat's paw for a much more powerful and malevolent being.

The evil possession of her little brother is creepy, and builds nicely to full on horror as the story progresses, and the final confrontation with the more powerful spirit was full of bloody ectoplasmy ickiness such as horror fans enjoy (at least I think they do, and I think it was; I tend to skim descriptions of ick because otherwise they will revisit me forever.  But what I grasped didn't seem too unbearable.*)  And there's more horror here than just what's happening in the new house.  Harper has had troubles with ghosts before, that have left her badly injured and unable to remember what happen, and as current events unfold, so do her memories of these past traumas. So for kids who want horror, there's plenty of it.

What made this one I personally enjoyed so much, though, is the fact that it is also a family and friendship story.  Harper makes a new friend, Dayo, a lovely and helpful companion in adversity, and that was nice.   Less nice are family tensions, with her mother's mother shut out of the family (Harper inherited her gifts from her grandmother, who is a shamanic Spirit Hunter, and her mother can't stand this "superstitions nonsense"), and her mother isn't able to accept that Harper might really be seeing ghosts.  Her big sister blames Harper for the move to D.C. and is not the friend she once was, which happens to many seventh-graders with big sisters...So there are personal, character development things happening alongside the story that makes Harper real and someone to care about.

In some middle grade books, the kids are so wonderful and Chosen that they are able to defeat the Evil by themselves, but I like books like this one better.  It is up to Harper to find the strength in herself to win the final confrontation, but she's not entirely alone.  Her grandmother has helped get her to that point, and the ghost of an African American medium and Dayo  are their to provide support.  Even her little brother has to be an agent in his own escape from possession.  This to me is much more satisfying than extreme kid heroics.

It's also satisfying to see the diversity here, diversity that's central to who the characters are without defining them as just that--Harper's mother is Korean American, and Dayo's family is Jamaican.

One final thing that struck me--it was driven home to me that I really truly am no longer the target audience, because the thing I found most relatable is that Dayo's mom makes the same type of cookie as me--cranberry white chocolate oatmeal.

In short, I highly recommend both the book and cranberry white chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

*for instance, I have Jonathan Stroud to thank for the fact that every time I go up the stairs, I think of the dark greasy smear left by the cannibal killer of the last Lockwood and Co. book.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Free Blog Counter

Button styles