“Folks say Old Auntie takes a girl and keeps her fifty years—then lets her go and takes another one.”
Title: Took: A Ghost Story
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Time to read: 1 day
Daniel and his sister, Erica, didn’t want to move to rural West Virginia. Their new home is a rundown old farm surrounded by woods, miles from town. The local kids treat Daniel and Erica as snobby outsiders and frighten them with strange stories about their house and a witch called Old Auntie. Erica withdraws further into herself, holding long conversations with her doll, and their parents grow increasingly unhappy in their new surroundings.
At first Daniel dismisses the tales of the witch and her man-eating razorback hog, Bloody Bones, a superstitious nonsense, but gradually he is forced to believe that Erica is in real danger. When Erica vanishes, he knows she’s been “took” and he must summon all his courage to confront Old Auntie and take his sister back. (Summary from the inside of the book)
I picked out this book based on its cover which at first glance is rather ‘eerie’. The next point of interest was the opening quote: “Folks say Old Auntie takes a girl and keeps her fifty years— then lets her go and takes another one.” This led me to read the entire summary but the final and most important point was getting past chapter one and still wanting to keep on reading.
The chilling and creepy factor are deeply interwoven with tension.
The chapters are told from Daniel’s point of view and at times, you can feel the boy’s frustration and tension when he’s unable to talk to his sister, confide in his parents or even gather a semblance of support from neighbors.
Some chapters are told in third person point of view to give the reader an insight of Old Auntie or her companion.
This is marked as ‘Children’s Fiction’ and I was hesitant to pick it up. I was surprised to have enjoyed it as much as I did. It reminded me closely of Coraline, a concept which as an adult I still found eerie yet interesting.
The book takes place mostly in rural West Virginia. We get a description of the woods, establishments and even the sorts of individuals that live there.
The Woods: “. . . safe from whatever might be hiding in those woods— things that didn’t exist in Connecticut.”
The House: “Even in the dark I could see the place was a wreck. The porch sagged under the weight of vines. . . “
The Barn: “. . . almost hidden under a tangle of wild grapevines, honeysuckle, poison ivy, and brambles.”
Woodville School: “The walls were grayish green and bare. No bright paintings, no starred reports, no posters. . .”
I will focus on the characters which are mentioned in the summary so as to not spoil the book and I will use descriptions from the book to best describe each character.
“I kept my Star Wars figures and my puzzle collection on their own shelves. Posters of Spider-Man and Captain America hung on one wall. . .” — Daniel
“It’s a bad, scary place, no matter what they say. You and I know, but nobody believes us.”— Erica whispering to Little Erica.
” . . . so she and the doll could dress alike. It had its own bed, too. And it’s hair was red just like Erica’s and cut the same way.” — Little Erica.
“Her ragged cloak billows around her gnarled body. Strands of white hair stream across her bony face. . .” — Old Auntie
“Something moved at the edge of the woods. Its head gleamed in the moonlight, as white as bone.” — The Razorback Hog.
The plot, although given away by the summary —plays out slowly, intricately. As a reader, you only get ‘bits and pieces’ from Daniel’s point of view until it switches out to Erica. While some questions are left unanswered, there are no cliffhangers and most points of curiosity are tackled later on. We are never left ‘unknowing’ and yet the ‘unknown and eeriness’ is present in every step and even when things are concisely explained, the monsters don’t just suddenly become ‘old tales’. We are given their side of the story yet they remains monstrous and antagonist until the very end.
The opening quote is still my favorite quote of the entire book.
What was the last children’s fiction book you read?