When twelve-year-old Florence boards the crowded horse-drawn coach in London, she looks forward to a new life with her great uncle and aunt at Crutchfield Hall, an old manor house in the English countryside. Anything will be better, she thinks, than the grim London orphanage where she has lived since her parents' death.
But Florence doesn't expect the ghost of her cousin Sophia, who haunts the cavernous rooms and dimly lit hallways of Crutchfield and concocts a plan to use Florence to help her achieve her murderous goals. Will Florence be able to convince the others in the household of the imminent danger and stop Sophia before it's too late?
This book is targeted to 9-12 year olds, and I think that's a good audience for the story.
Set in 19th century England, readers are introduced to Florence right away as she travels to Crutchfield Hall to live with a great aunt and uncle she never knew about. Florence had been living in a London orphanage since she was 5 years old, and was excited about having a family. She was sad to hear that of her two cousins, Sophia had died in an accident and her younger brother James was too sickly to play. Despite this disappointment, she was very happy to be getting away from the orphanage. The description of the coach ride and the her walk to the house was wonderful and gave a sense of how new and overwhelming the wide open spaces were for the London-bred Florence. Once at Crutchfield Hall, the book seems very similar to The Secret Garden: the uncle who is always away, the sickly cousin who doesn't want to be seen, and a gardener and young maid whom Florence befriends. Her great aunt is an angry old woman who is just terrible to Florence. She had loved the sour Sophia and sees Florence as trying to replace her. The book is pretty much filled with stock characters, but they were well written. Once Florence figures out that Sophia's ghost is haunting Crutchfield Hall, the book takes on a break-neak pace. As an older reader, I felt the story moved ridiculously fast, but I know that my third graders would appreciate the pace of the story.
I felt that the ending of the story was a bit...flat. And tidy. Sophia was such a mean and awful ghost, but when her original plan to come back to life failed, she just gave up. That didn't really seem like Sophia's style. And as I said above, the ending was very tidy. But again, when I think of my third grade students, I don't think they would mind a book that moved quickly and was nicely wrapped up at the end. The cover is also fantastic and will grab a lot of attention.
I did like the vocabulary and description in this book, and think it would be a good book to read out loud (to a class or to your own children). I think this is the type of ghost story that will suck in young readers. There were some references to older authors and books that some kids might not be familiar with, but I hope would spark their interests.
I have read better books for this age level, certainly, but this one wasn't bad. I think the quality of description, the vocabulary used, and the literary references are great for young readers. I didn't like the super fast pace or the super tidy ending, but I think the book's young target audience of 9-12 year olds will. I will be buying this book for the elementary library, and will definitely recommend it to teachers as a good read aloud book. I will admit that this is the first of Downing Hahn's books that I have read, even though I've got a few of her books in the library. I'm going to check those out as soon as I get back.
Other Reviews for The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall:
The Fourth Muskateer review
The Lost Entwife review
Insert Book Title Here review
Killin' Time Reading review
The author's website can be found here.