Sian Jones's Reviews > All the Lovely Bad Ones

All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn
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Nov 10, 11

bookshelves: ghost-stories, kids
Read in October, 2011

Has some genuinely spooky moments, with a believably evil set of baddies, but my enjoyment was hampered by a couple of things: the underdeveloped main characters and the inconsistency of ghosts' actions with the conventions of ghosthood.

I need more of a past for Travis and Corey than "They're pranksters, the little rascals!" I need to know why in three months, in dire circumstances, there is never any mention of their parents -- wanting their parents with them, resenting their parents for sending them away for the summer, notifying their parents when they're in danger. Their parents exist purely as stage devices for how the kids came to exist, and yet there's so much potential there, for developing that theme of parents who cannot (or do not) protect their children. I need to know what their life was like before coming to the inn; I know more about the ghosts' old homelife than I do about the flippin' narrator's. These characters don't act like real children with real needs, with real fears. They're paper dolls.

Also, without real comment, without even the slightest evidence of surprise by any one involved, the ghosts are as material as the living kids. I know it's hokey to have too much of "And then I tried to grab the ghost's hand and my hand went right through!", but to not even comment on it? The ghost children grab and pull and push the main characters, taking their hands to lead them places -- and that doesn't feel weird to the kids? In the conventions of ghost lore, ghosts can act as a physical force, but being in physical contact with a ghost, being acted upon by a ghost, is reliably described as an uncanny experience. Chills are typically involved. Hairs on necks typically get raised. If you're going to write a ghost story, you have to address the readers' expectations of the genre -- this novel is the equivalent of a tale about vampires without any mention of sunlight. And in a ghost story, the immateriality of ghosts matters, because the inability to affect the physical world is the driving force behind the haunting: if the ghosts could so casually, so directly affect the physical world, why weren't they themselves doing the revealing, the digging up of damning evidence? If you can grab a kid and drag them to the pertinent grave, you can certainly move the soil from the grave yourself -- unless the tale gives me reasons otherwise, and this tale does not give any time to such explanations.
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