Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters is the first volume in her middle grade Spirit Hunter series.
Grade-seven student Harper Raine is coping with an unwanted move to a spooky mansion in Washington, DC. If that were not stressful enough, she has a mysterious past about which her parents are mum and an older sister who blames Harper for all that is wrong in the world. At least her four-year-old brother Michael likes Harper.
Back to the spooky mansion thing.…
The old Grady house was vacant for decades before the Raine family bought it. Mostly vacant, that is, Many families moved into the Grady place and moved right out (as Harper’s new friend Daya explains). They all knew the house had a lurid history, but they soon discovered that the house was a bad place to live.
Harper only has Daya’s word for the Grady house’s grisly past. Daya could be wrong; after all, school kids have been known to buy into baseless urban legends. In this case, however, Harper is inclined to think there might just be something to wild tales. Harper can confirm there is at least one ghost occupying the mansion, because she has seen it.
Harper’s little brother Michael shares Harper’s sensitivity to the occult. This makes him ideal from the POV of the ghost (previously known as Billy). Michael’s young body would a fine new home for Billy.
Harper can see what is going on. Her skeptical parents cannot and, as they are already convinced that Harper is disturbed, are not inclined to take her wild stories at face value. Harper has to save Michael but to do that, she needs to recover memories long lost and re-establish ties with an estranged relative.
I think Clarke once said that the most ominous employee review was “means well.” Harper’s mother means well. So does her dad. Because they are so determined to erase the past and boost Harper’s self-esteem, they manage to make her life a lot more stressful than it needs to be.
Harper’s grandmother is a Korean shaman. Harper’s mother believes that shamanism is a superstitious relic and has kept her embarrassing mother in the background. Harper and her brother seem to have inherited grandma’s talents. They are sensitive to the occult; they are also vulnerable to the occult. The book suggests that shamanistic methods may have been invented at least in part for self-defence.
Not all of the dead are malevolent shades waiting for a convenient new body. Not every shade still in our world is there because they have some malign purpose. It’s just that the benign spirits don’t generate much in the way of plot. [Editor’s note: consider all the spirits of deceased mothers who figure in folk tales as hovering helpfully over their kids. Perhaps not as many good ghosts as evil ghosts, but they are there in the lit.]
This is aimed at readers considerably younger than I am. It’s straightforward and linear and consequently not aimed at my sweet spot. Nevertheless there were some aspects of the book that I enjoyed — particularly the lying parents who thought they were doing it for the best. Kids should know that parents may be duplicitous or misguided. Probably not the best book for adults, but grade-schoolers might enjoy this.