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Friday, 12 July 2013

Book Talk: The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn

In keeping with last week's theme of "gems from the past", today I'll be talking about The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn -- another book and author to blame for my reading addiction. Yes, it is an addiction. But it's a beautiful addiction. I'll be talking about this book because a) it is awesome and chilling and made me cry, i.e. emotional -- the test of any good art, and b) I haven't finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children yet (but I'm loving that one too, if anyone was interested).

Mary Downing Hahn was my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE author when I was a preteen. I loved everything of hers that I read, and every time my grandma offered to buy me a book, I'd say "I don't care which one it is so long as it's by Mary Downing Hahn. Also, not *insert list of her books I already own here*." True fact. The annoying thing was that I've never been able to find her here in the UK, so I'd stock up every summer and easter we went to the USA.

I know I usually blog about YA, and I'd call Willis Place a middle grade novel, but it's one of those haunting (pun not intended) books that is so good it doesn't matter what age the protagonist is.

Diana and her little brother, Georgie, are not like regular children. They don't eat, or sleep, and are governed by two strict rules ever since "the bad things" happened -- 1) do not leave the grounds of Willis Place, and 2) do not let anyone see you. However, strong as the fear of breaking these mysterious rules is, the temptation of a friend gets to Diana when a new caretaker and his daughter, Lissa, move in to maintain the dilapidated mansion.
But breaking rules has consequences, and for these two siblings, they may be deadly -- after all, Miss Lillian can break the rules too. . .

Here's the link to the book on the author's website, and on Amazon. Try a chapter here.

Like I said before, I really love Mary Downing Hahn, and though I'd recommend any of her books, I think this one has to be my favourite. It's also the first one of hers I read, so it has a sort of sentimental value. Hahn's writing is always insightful, captivating and beautifully written. You're sad when it's over, as any good book should make you feel. I'm also in awe of how she can make her books utterly unputdownable without the cruel tricks of many YA authors (*cough* evil cliffhangers. *cough* subjecting your favourite character to a fate worse than death.). That is true storytelling skill. When things are sad, they're sad in a good way, if that makes any sense. My only complaint is I wish the books had been longer. But I have that complaint with every book I like. So it's not really a complaint, but a compliment :)

By the way, for any non-horror/paranormal fans, try Stepping on the Cracks. It's a great historical about WWII, and I love love love it. Or for more chills and thrills, Wait Till Helen Comes is wonderfully atmospheric, and that would have to be my next favourite ghost story of hers (that I've read). It's scarier than The Old Willis Place -- and I still find it mind-boggling that it was written before I was even born. I don't know why, but I just can't wrap my head around that.

So, to conclude, if you're trying to get a 9-13 year old to read, I urge you to try Mary Downing Hahn. Try her yourself, even if you're "too old" for middle grade. No one is ever too old for a good story.