Long about Halloween my twitter pal @winnerbowzer and I had a twitter discussion about scary books. I told her about how Blackbriar scared the crap out of me. She told me that the scariest book she read as a kid was Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. Since @winnerbowzer has pretty good taste, I procured a copy post haste.
It’s only now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it and hoo-boy was it fun! Jane-Emily is billed as a romance and a ghost story. Sweet!
It’s set in 1912, and nineteen-year-old Louisa is sent along with her recently-orphaned niece, nine-year-old Jane, to spend the summer with Jane’s grandmother. Louisa’s not too thrilled with this prospect because she had great plans to spend the summer mooning about with Martin, her poetry-writing beau.
But away they go and end up at Lydia Canfield’s dusty, dank, and dark house. Lydia rattles around the old manor with a gardener and her maid, Katie. The house, like Lydia, is kind of stuck in perpetual mourning — not just the recent death of her son, John (Jane’s father and Lousia’s brother-in-law) — but also her husband and twelve-year-old daughter Emily, who has been dead for nearly twelve years.
Louisa spends a lot of time pining for Martin back home and Jane spends a lot of time communing with the spirit of her dead aunt. Things get really interesting once Dr. Adam, Emily’s childhood playmate, returns to town and sweeps Louisa right off her feet.
Throughout we learn about Emily and what a horrible brat she was. The kind of brat that bordered on pure evil. We also learn what caused her to be so awful and why she’s haunting her family this particular summer. Reading this as an adult some of these explanations were a little eye-roll inducing. However, if I were anywhere from eight to eleven years old I’d have loved the crap out of this.
The romance is chaste enough for young readers to not be ooged out by the kissing and the scary parts are just scary enough to cause goosebumps. It’s a nice balance. The climax of the book, which takes place on a stormy night complete with howling winds and lightning is pretty cliche, but if a young reader is still new to books, specifically scary books, they’ll think it’s the scariest best thing to ever happen to the written word.