I was child of the 80s, meaning I was born in the early 80s and while I truly came of age in the 90s, my formative years will forever be tied to the decade of excess.
Why bring this up? As I was waltzing through the aisle of my local Books-A-Million yesterday, and I do mean waltzing, I was brought up short by a center aisle display featuring this book:
Now you have to admit, it's a cool cover, especially for a kid's book. Beautifully rendered, eerie... haunting, for lack of a better word. And although I love young adult novels, I don't normally waste my time on the middlegrade novels. They just don't do anything for me. But this cover stopped me...and that was before I saw the title.
Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
Holy Mother of Childhood flashbacks! Wait Till Helen Comes is the first paranormal novel I ever read. It was originally released in 1986, and I believe I was in second or third grade when I read it. Of course, back then the cover looked like this:
Ahhh, 80s cover goodness. Is that a mullet on the little girl? Why yes, I believe it is.
I remember this book vividly. I. Was. Terrified.
Not just because of the story, although it was frightening to me as a child. I was raised in a fundamentalist household. Horror, paranormal, ghost stories, all of it was forbidden. That's probably one of the reasons I like the genre so much now. If I had been caught with Wait Till Helen Comes in my schoolbag, the only book I would have been allowed to read for the subsequent decade would have been the Bible. Ghost stories were a no-no. I remember sneaking Wait Till Helen comes up to my room and locking myself inside to read, turning my dad's eight-track player up so no one would realize what I was up to. Remarkably, my grandmother didn't figure it out and I was able to continue sneaking forbidden books up to my room. Wait Till Helen Comes was the start, and I obviously still love ghost stories and tales of the paranormal.
From Hahn's website:
Twelve-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother, Michael, have never liked their younger stepsister, Heather. Ever since their parents got married, she's made Molly and Michael's life miserable. Now their parents have moved them all to the country to live in a house that used to be a church, with a cemetery in the backyard. If that's not bad enough, Heather starts talking to a ghost named Helen and warning Molly and Michael that Helen is coming for them. Molly feels certain Heather is in some kind of danger, but every time she tries to help, Heather twists things around to get her into trouble. It seems as if things can't get any worse. But they do—when Helen comes.
I can't do a full review because, let's face it, it's been about 2 decades since I read this story, but I do remember it's suspenseful and the mystery is engaging. The characters are well written. I empathized with Molly, but by the end of the story I also felt sympathy for Heather, no matter how bratty she was. Helen is frightening as a ghost because she has no redeeming qualities. Although a "child" herself, she is cruel and manipulating. In the landscape of "good" paranormal characters (sparkly, vegetarian vampires and the like), Helen was a monster.
If my memory isn't failing me, that is :)
I couldn't be happier that this beloved childhood tale is circulating around for a new generation of children. Good stories always stand the test of time.
Childhood Rating: 5/5
Maybe it's time I order a copy and reread the tale...with the new cover, of course. I have a weakness for awesome covers.