[Book Review] All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn


[Book Review] All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Travis and his sister, Corey, can't resist a good trick. When they learn that their grandmother s quiet Vermont inn, where they re spending the summer, has a history of ghost sightings, they decide to do a little haunting of their own. Before long, their supernatural pranks have tourists flocking to the inn, and business booms. But Travis and Corey soon find out that they aren t the only ghosts at Fox Hill Inn. Their thoughtless games have awakened something dangerous, something that should have stayed asleep. Restless, spiteful spirits swarm the inn, while a dark and terrifying presence stalks the halls and the old oak grove on the inn s grounds. Only Travis and Corey can lay to rest the ghosts they've stirred. This means discovering the secret of Fox Hill and the horrors visited on its inhabitants years before...
When it comes to Mary Downing Hahn's children's ghost stories, her output ranges from pretty solid (Wait Til Helen Comes, Witch Catcher, The Doll in the Garden) to truly terrible (Closed for the Season, Time for Andrew, The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall). But I always give her a chance; I love ghost stories, I love MG and kidlit, and I definitely love the place where they overlap. Mary Downing Hahn is an author whose books I will always give a chance.

All the Lovely Bad Ones is the fifth Hahn book I read, wedged neatly in between Deep and Dark and Dangerous, which I enjoyed, and The Old Willis Place, which... I didn't hate, I guess? It's the story of a couple of prankster siblings who have gotten on their parents' nerves for apparently the last time. As punishment, these two wayward souls have been send on a kind of probationary vacation to their grandmother's house, and it's implied that getting into further mischief there will get them into very deep trouble with their parents once they've returned.

But this inn, of course, is more interesting than your typical bed and breakfast setting. Gram's inn is said to be haunted, even if the kids can't seem to stumble across any ghosts themselves. But ghosts are good for business, and not seeing any means that business is slow--so it's a good thing these grandkids are pranksters.

Or is it? After the kids play their pranks, trying to convince everyone that there really are ghosts at the inn, the obligatory crusty old caretaker characters comes out of the woodwork with his just-as-obligatory fears: these kids and their pranks have awoken the actual ghosts. Supposedly.

Now, if there's one thing you've probably noticed about my reviews of children's books, it's that there's one type of character I'm always more likely to hate than not: the parents. They're usually only there for extra conflict, often neglecting their children's emotional needs, ignoring their fears and warnings, and generally being unreasonable. In this case, that role is filled by Gram, the children's grandmother, who got under my skin at virtually every point in the story. And not for no reason! When she finds her grandkids sobbing and terrified, she "stares at them as if they were monsters" and demands to know "What kind of children are you?", seemingly accusing them of... I don't know, having upset themselves?

But Gram isn't just terrible to the main characters. Gram also has a sixteen-year-old employee at the inn who gets so scared by the ghostly goings-on that the employee actually calls her mom to take her home (and anyone who's spent more than five minutes around a sixteen-year-old should know that is not an age at which needing mommy is taken lightly!), and Gram's response was to immediately begin trying to guilt this frightened child into staying. Why? Specifically because she doesn't want to hire someone else. She tries to manipulate a child into staying at a place the child is scared of because she's too lazy to hire someone who isn't afraid. Great. (Thankfully, the employee, Tracy, stands up for herself. She flees the inn and goes home, after which Gram continues to insult her at every opportunity. Delightful!)

She's also outspokenly judgmental. As she puts it, men who wear ponytails and women who wear black nail polish and have piercings are "not to be trusted". You know, the kind of slightly-less-conventional-than-average people who might be interested in going to a reputedly haunted in! Don't trust 'em! They might... stay at your inn or something? I don't know.

But perhaps the Gram moment that annoyed me the most was her interaction with the straw skeptic character that Hahn felt the need to include. According to Gram, skeptics are "ignorant", and, you know, I honestly hadn't been expecting to be insulted by a children's book today, but there we have it. I don't think there's a single trope I hate more in horror stories than that of the straw skeptic. If you feel the need to include a skeptic in your horror story, I have some advice for you: don't. All you're going to do is insult your readers. Because, FYI, I am perfectly capable of disbelieving in the existence of ghosts while also reading ghost stories. It's possible, believe me. I'm 100% living proof.


Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, aside from my complaints, it's not a terrible story. It is, however, a very dark story at its core.

Click to view spoiler!
The ghosts are real, of course, and they turn out to be the spirits of "naughty" little boys from when the inn used to be a poor farm (think a cross between a boarding house and a debtor's prison) run by an abusive couple. But one of these abusers, Miss Ada, is also a ghost--and a much more nefarious one, at that. Her life apparently ended via suicide, and her role as the villain comes to a head when she attempts to force the male sibling, Travis, to kill himself like she did via a weird ghostly power in the vein of possession/oppression. And ultimately, when Miss Ada is defeated, she is taken off by a dark figure who the kids claim is the devil.

I'm not gonna lie; I was honestly shocked by how dark the book got. But in the end, I don't think I can give this one more than a meh rating. I like the idea, but I kind of hate the execution. Perhaps it would've been better handled by another author's pen? I'm not sure what it would've taken to save this one; there's a kernel of good here, but the story just didn't bloom in a way that vibed with me. Maybe next time, Hahn!

Travis and his sister, Corey, can't resist a good trick. When they learn that their grandmother s quiet Vermont inn, where they re spend...

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