Welcome to the best ghost story of 2019, if not the decade. In a nutshell, the mind-bendingly morally gray antagonist is the vengeful ghost of a girl who lived a very sad life, and while still being creepy AF, this book simultaneously has warm fuzzies that require mass quantities of tissues.
Thank you India Hill Brown and Scholastic for the ARC of THE FORGOTTEN GIRL.
Eleven-year-old Iris and her best friend Daniel, against the superstitions of his grandma Suga, go play at midnight in the new-fallen snow… where they discover the abandoned gravestone of eleven-year-old Avery Moore.
Anxious, nightmare-prone Iris begins seeing the ghost of a young girl everywhere. Trying to put Avery to rest, they research the history of the abandoned, segregated cemetary that’s become Iris’s backyard.
In life, Avery was a mostly invisible girl as well: One of the unnamed, unwelcome group that desegregated Iris’s current middle school in the 1950s.
Jim Crow may have nominally died in the years since Avery’s passing, but racial microagressions are alive and well in present-day Easaw, NC.
And that’s a big thorn in Iris’s side as she navigates middle school. The only Black school club president, her step team is oops forgotten when the local news does a story about the middle school. When she bickers with meangirl classmate Heather, Iris’s sharp words are coincidentally the only ones the teacher hears.
In other words, the psychological creep factor of how much Iris and Avery have in common, made me glad I share a bedroom.
Worst of all is the truth about how Avery lost her first best friend, and how far she’ll go to get and keep a new one…
- This story is scary, just this side of pushing it for middle grade. It would be an understatement to say Avery has become a sinister and angry spirit (it’s even scarier because it’s justifiable).
- Avery died in a pretty brutal way, in part because her rescue was de-prioritized due to her race. Even Iris’s classmates, many proud descendents of Confederate soldiers, show a lot of callousness toward the forgotten cemetery.
In other words, don’t just give this book to a very sensitive child (who will identify with Iris in this capacity) without a nightlight and/or being prepared to have a tough conversation with them about modern-day racism.
Although if you’re reading a blog about children’s literature, there’s a good chance you’re a helicopter parent like me, rendering the above point moot.
- I wish Scholastic would put a book club or conversation guide at the back. This book is probably getting some well-deserved awards for being a great jumping point for conversations about racial microagessions and how hard they are to root out of the world in general.
- Iris’s feelings of being forgotten – both as an older sister to a demanding preschooler; and as somewhat a loner at school – mirror Avery’s invisibility and up the bonechill factor.
- Look no further for an illustration of microaggressions and how damaging they are.
- The “surprise twist” is one you should see coming… but Hill Brown’s writing is so amazing that you don’t.
- The quality of Hill Brown’s writing is straight out of a 19th century “classic” novel – a reread shows her command of symbolism and super-subtle foreshadowing are on fleek. (Except, of course, Iris’s voice is relatable and we get timely and poignant lessons in social justice instead of pages of description about brocades or whatnot).
- Obviously, most of the characters in the book – Iris and Daniel and their families, plus Avery – are Black and it’s very central to the story.
- Backmatter discusses Hill Brown’s connection to Avery’s story: She has family members buried in the all-signs-point-to haunted historical segregated Randolph Cemetery in Columbia, SC.
Fans of Mary Downing Hahn, Jewell Parker Rhodes’ GHOST BOYS, Goosebumps fans looking to level up.
To say I’m looking forward to India Hill Brown’s next book is an understatement.
THE FORGOTTEN GIRL is out November 5 from Scholastic.