The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall
by Mary Downing Hahn
Uncle said the dead did not return. He was wrong.
Twelve-year old orphan, Florence Crutchfield, is plucked from her home at Miss Medleycoate’s School for Girls and sent to live with her father’s long-lost uncle at Crutchfield Hall. Florence is certain that she will be happier with her uncle, his sister and his great-nephew, James, but soon learns that she was wrong. Though she feels kindness from her uncle, Florence’s great-aunt, Eugenie, despises her. Eugenie is still in mourning for James’ “perfect” sister Sophia, who almost died a year before and takes her anger out on Florence. Florence is also not permitted to see James, who is too sickly for visitors.
It soon becomes apparent that there is another resident of Crutchfield Hall…the ghost of Sophia. Sophia begins making Florence do her bidding and seems to exact an odd control over her. It is Sophia’s ultimate goal to recreate the scene of her death and have someone else perish in her place. She believes that this act will allow her to take her rightful place among the living.
I absolutely think that Mary Downing Hahn is one of the best authors out there for students in the middle grades; her stories are fast-paced and spooky with well-developed characters. I have given her books to many a reluctant book-hopper with great success. These books spread like wildfire through my classroom, and I can never keep them on the shelves.
The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall does not disappoint! While it is a bit different than her other ghost stories (typically set in more modern times), the elements that draw kids in are all there. I loved her description of the ghost of Sophia. Sophia had once been a very beautiful, but rotten, child. When she appears to Florence, she is still cruel and controlling but her beauty has faded. Hahn writes, “She wore a stained white silk dress, and her dainty slippers were muddy. What was left of her dark hair was dull and sparse. Her face was narrow and pale, her skin stretched tightly over her skull. Dark shadows ringed her eyes. Her teeth were brown. She smelled of earth and mold.” Just enough eww factor for middle grade readers!
The story picks up momentum quickly as Florence questions others about Sophia and if the presence of her ghost was possible. Kindly house servants support Florence as she works to protect James from Sophia’s wrath. The final climax, a show down between James, Florence and Sophia, is taut with tension and excitement. Both the characters of James and Florence show courage and a level of independence not seen typically from children in this period of history.
In the novel, Florence is an avid reader, which I love! However, middle grade readers may not be familiar with the Bronte sisters, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair or Edgar Allen Poe. If I were to give this book to a student, I would be sure to provide some brief background information about the time period and the authors/books mentioned in the novel. Additionally, this is not the first Mary Downing Hahn book I would give a student, unless he or she specifically asked for historical fiction. The dialect of the servants, more formal style of language or the time period might turn off some younger readers. I would recommend Wait Till Helen Comes or Deep, Dark and Dangerous first to whet the student’s appetite for the wonderfulness that is Mary Downing Hahn and then follow those up with her other novels, including this one.
I continue to be a huge Mary Downing Hahn supporter and loved this most recent book, The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Science Fiction (paranormal)
Age Recommendation: 8-12