The Old Willis Place: a Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn – It’s been awhile since I read Hahn’s earlier ghost story, Wait Till Helen Comes, but that story made such a shivery impression on me that I had to read this new one when it came across my desk the other day. And I wasn’t disappointed. Hahn has woven another brilliantly frightening story, this time revolving around Diana and Georgie, two siblings who live like wild children in the woods behind the crumbling old Willis mansion, and who are hemmed in by certain rules and boundaries around the place, all dating back to when “the bad thing” happened. We meet Diana and Georgie as they hide in the bushes, awaiting the arrival of the new caretaker and his daughter, who Diana immediatley wants as friend. As the story moves on, we learn more about Diana and Georgie and their relationship with Lilian Willis, the old lady who died in the mansion, but whose spirit is said to haunt the place. As Diana and Lissa, the caretaker’s daughter, become friends, Diana lets Lissa in on a terrible secret involving a locked storeroom in the basement of the Willis place. The secret is uncovered and bodies are removed from the house, which sets in motion a final confrontation between Diana & Georgie and Lilian.
Although I figured out pretty quickly that Diana and Georgie were ghosts, I was still compelled to continue reading until I learned the truth about “the bad thing.” One thing I’ve always liked about Hahn’s work is the theme of forgiveness that runs through them. That theme appears here again, as Miss Lilian explains her actions to the children and Diana forgives her. Plenty of shivers up the spine, but also a suitably redemptive ending. I read this one in a few hours and passed it on to Liz. She’s been reading it all day.