A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The plot of What the Dead Want involves slavery, the Underground Railroad, the Ku Klux Klan, and public lynchings. The subjects are handled with sensitivity.
It's better to acknowledge and deal with disturbing aspects of the past than to pretend they never happened. The emotional bond between a mother and daughter can be unbreakable.
Positive Role Models
With her artist mother missing and her father the physician mostly absent, Gretchen has learned to be self-reliant. When she discovers that the mansion she's inherited is haunted, she bravely chooses to stay. Resourceful and resilient, she faces up to unpleasant truths about her family's history.
Violence & Scariness
A character commits suicide by drinking poison. Ghostly children trip people, bite them, and send hordes of wasps to sting them. Although the scene is not dramatized, the lynching of an African-American man is a central plot point.
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About a dozen uses of "hell" and "damn" and a few instances of "s--t."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Gretchen's great-aunt is an alcoholic who smokes cigarettes and drinks gin fizzes. When Gretchen is possessed by her spirit, she feels the urge to do likewise.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that What the Dead Want is a contemporary ghost story by Norah Olson, set in a haunted mansion with a dark history that dates to before the Civil War. The stand-alone novel includes a number of scary scenes, but the level of horror is not likely to disturb most readers. Ghostly apparitions trip, bite, and send hordes of wasps after unwary victims. There's some swearing (about a dozen uses of "hell" and "damn" and a few instances of "s--t"). Teen protagonist Gretchen's great-aunt drinks gin fizzes and smokes cigarettes, as does Gretchen when she's possessed by the old woman's spirit.
Is It Any Good?
It takes skill to construct a convincing tale of a haunted house, and this contemporary novel with deep roots in the past finds something new to do with the standard horror tropes. What the Dead Want provides a reasonable answer to the question of why someone would stay in a mansion they know to be haunted. Author Norah Olson makes understandable Gretchen's quest to find her missing mother's whereabouts, but she also cranks up the suspense as the plot accelerates to its climax. That Gretchen and her friends are able to solve in a few days a mystery that obsessed her Aunt Esther for decades seems a bit unrealistic, but most readers won't be bothered by that incongruity.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.