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“All of a sudden, I saw this little girl sitting near me, making a clover chain. I didn’t realize she was a ghost at first. She looked like a real girl. There wasn’t anything scary about her,” Jules. –The Girl in the Locked Room
The Girl in the Locked Room
by Mary Downing Hahn
A girl is locked in a room in an old, abandoned house. She has been hiding there for more than a hundred years. Another girl, Jules, arrives at the ruined house and sees a pale face in an upstairs window. Who is up there, she wonders, behind a locked door?
Jules finds out that a young girl, Lily, has been watching her from the window. Jules is fearful, then fascinated, then eager to befriend—and help—the captive, who is burdened by a chilling secret from the distant past.
Even though The Girl in the Locked Room is a ghost story that revolves around murder, the story won’t give readers shivery chills. From the start, readers know that Lily’s family was murdered. Since the family’s demise is not described in detail and leaves out any gore, the circumstances surrounding their death add suspense. The mystery of what happened will fill readers with curiosity.
The story jumps back and forth between Lily and Jules’ perspectives, which allows readers to understand both girls’ feelings. Much of the suspense comes from the characters’ questioning themselves and wondering about each other. At times, the long string of questioning becomes overwhelming as they slow down the pacing.
While the girls’ feelings are clear, the cause of some of the events is confusing. For example, portions of the family’s murder are played out each night and only Lily and Jules hear the raucous. The idea of multiple dimensions is introduced, which muddies the plot and makes the ending confusing. As far as ghost stories go, The Girl in the Locked Room is an uninspiring story with lackluster characters that will easily be forgotten. If you’re looking for a book that revolves around the supernatural, you should grab a copy of Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega and Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland.
- When Jules moves into an old house, she learns that the family who used to live there was murdered and the house is haunted. Jules’ friend says, “Lots of kids have seen their ghosts, my brother included—he says if you go inside that house, you never come out.”
- At night, ghosts from the past reappear, playing out the past. In one viewing, a group of men finds the murdered bodies of the family. Their bodies are not described.
- Jules and her friend, Maisie, go into the old house. Jules thinks, “I knew people had been murdered in these rooms. Blood had stained its floor. Silent screams hung in the air.”
- Through multiple scenes, Jules learns what happened to the family. Mr. Bennett fired an employee who had stolen from him. Lily hears “the men’s voices rise. Mama screams and screams again. Lily hears explosions, two, three, maybe more. She recognizes the sound of gunfire. There’s more cursing, more thuds and bangs.”
- In the past, one of the women’s husbands was known to hit her and leave bruises “all over her arms.” When the man breaks into the Bennett’s house and his wife tries to stop him, “there’s a loud smacking sound, and Aunt Nellie cries out in pain.”
- In a plan to change the past, Lily doesn’t hide in the closet. Instead, when the men arrive, she goes downstairs and a man “grabs Lily and lifts her off her feet. He holds her under her arms as if she’s a dog. His breath smokes with whisky and his eyes are wicked, like the eyes of the old bull Papa keeps in the pasture.”
- When Lily breaks free, the man’s gun falls to the ground, and his wife, Aunt Nellie, grabs it. She says, “Stop right now, Charlie or I’ll shoot you dead. Don’t think I won’t.” Charlie’s friend shoots and accidentally hits Charlie. He “falls to the floor. His head is bleeding. A red stain spreads across the carpet.” The scene between Lily’s family and the bad men is described over ten pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- The men who killed Lily’s family were drunk.
- When men threaten Mr. Bennett, he calls them “drunken fools.”
- Oh Lord, for the Lord’s sake, and Lord God Almighty are used several times.
- Someone asks, “What the devil’s going on?”
- Lily’s mom calls her husband an idiot.
- When Lily’s ghost appears to Jules and her friend, “Jules and Maisie see her as she once was, not as she is now.”
- Lily’s pastor “told us the world would end in the year two thousand. Judgement Day would come, and the dead would rise from their graves, and we’d be sent to heaven or hell.”