Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story Book Poster Image
Intriguing, history-minded mystery with a modern twist.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

In the flashbacks to the time of slavery, there is some real cruelty mentioned -- suspected abuse of a wife by her husband and a slave owner who is possibly guilty of murder. On the other hand there are examples of positive adult influences, true friendship, and love. The title character, Pemba, begins as sullen and sulky toward her mother, but grows out of it.


Mentions of murder, cruelty, and spousal abuse. A girl becomes violently ill and is hospitalized.


Puppy love between two teens with brief kisses.


Quite a bit of slang coming from the teens' interaction with one another, but nothing negative.


The title characters mention MP3 players and cell phones, but nothing by brand name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are some incidents of violence in this book including a murder, a poisoning, and spousal abuse, all relived in some way by a clairvoyant teen. Parents should also be aware that part of the novel takes place during the time of slavery. Cruelties of the time are mentioned in flashbacks rather than in the visceral way of many novels written today on the subject.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byairlinem May 14, 2012


Parent of a 6-year-old Written bytaylor2079 March 15, 2011
i think it was a good book but it has a little bad language
Teen, 13 years old Written bymrz.reader January 17, 2012

a teenage review of pemba's song

its very interresting and keeps you wonting to know more!!!!
Teen, 14 years old Written byxxxYue101xxx September 18, 2011


It's really not a scary story and the story plot is interesting. Different than what I expected.

What's the story?

Pemba finds herself in a little "nothing" town in Connecticut after her mother moves her away from her friends and her beloved Brooklyn. Cell phone service is spotty and their new house, which is about 200 years old, is creeping her out. What does it mean when you look into the mirror and see someone else? With the help of a friendly, yet kind of weird older man, Pemba starts learning the history of the little town. The more she learns about the town and the mysteries of her house, the more she learns about herself. Unfortunately, the house's past threatens to take control of her in ways she never imagined.

Is it any good?

This is a great novel full of excitement and intrigue. Authors Marilyn Nelson (a Newberry Honor recipient) and Tonya C. Hegamin weave a tale that takes the reader back and forth through time with the greatest of ease. They are adept at creating characters that readers care about. Pemba alternates between being fiesty and sullen as she tries to adjust to a new life and town while worrying about friends back home leaving her behind. Phyllys has a quiet determination and dignity juxtaposed with intense sadness. Both teens feel the resentment that comes from living life under someone else's control, yet both are resolute in their pursuit of justice for crimes committed long ago.

This book will be a hit with a variety of readers. Teens will identify with both girls' struggles to assert independence and to be heard. Mystery lovers will get caught up in the twists and turns of the tale, and reluctant readers will enjoy the modern references and reading ease of this realitively short narrative. Parents will appreciate how the authors made history an intergral, yet seamless part of the story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about American history and compare lifestyles then and now. Pemba finds herself living through a slave girl that once occupied her new house. What are the similarities between Phylly's life and Pemba's? What are the similiarities between their lives and yours? What did Pemba learn while researching town history with Mr. Abraham? What history do you know of the town where you live? Why is important to know your family's personal history?

Book details

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate