A story of darkness told with warmth, Ciara McLellan
August 24, 2022
From the opening of The Haunting to its satisfying conclusion, Margaret Mahy delves into the secret legacy gifted to select members of the family, and how the family’s secrets, even ones deeply buried in the past, constrain the relationships of the Scholar family.
Eight-year-old Barney has been haunted before, but this time, it’s different. We see this in the very first sentence of the book, which hooks us nicely into the beginning of this wonderful adventure. “When, suddenly, on an ordinary Wednesday, it seemed to Barney that the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, he knew he was about to be haunted again.” This beautifully told story captures the life of young Barney and his family while they navigate the secrets of the well-hidden family legacy, bringing you into the world of the Scholars, painting a clear picture in your mind, so you feel as if you are truly a part of this journey.
This book is aimed at children from around 10-12, but is a good read for all, with a light supernatural fantasy theme. The portrayal of the family is realistic and has humorous moments throughout, in the form of one of Barney’s older sisters, Tabitha, who is an aspiring writer with a passion for all things unordinary. “Why do the best things always happen to other people and not to a promising writer?” Tabitha comments after Barney faints.
We also see Barney’s other older sister, Troy, the polar opposite of Tabitha, who, despite her silent portrayal, is a more complicated person underneath. This book has an overall spooky feel, tailored to suit the audience of younger readers, and brings in the importance of family, especially with Barney’s father and stepmother, who love him unconditionally, and his sisters, who are ready and willing to help him uncover the family legacy, and the secrets behind his latest haunting.
This short story is engaging, making it easy to keep turning the page, with new breakthroughs and twists as the plot progresses. Margaret Mahy is an incredible author, tastefully adding the suggestion of such darkness and terror while keeping the book light enough for children to read it. “Barney felt his own face changing. Fear swept through him, now hot, now cold… This creature, whose smile was so like his own smile, was a horror. He stood, while still awake, in the presence of a nightmare.”
This book is an amazing metaphor for the fact that children are never really in control of their own lives, and how someone else is usually pulling the strings. Despite the book’s original publishing date in the early 1980s, it is hardly dated at all, providing a fantastic read for adults and children alike.
This is an outstanding novel, once again showing the skill and talent of the famous New Zealand author. I loved reading it and was well invested in the book by the first couple of chapters. Once I started reading, it really was hard to put back down, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. The setting still rings true today, even 40 years after it was written.
- Ciara is 14 years old and lives in Nelson.