Library Book Sale Finds: One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

As we discussed last September when I was doing my foundational book series, Wait Till Helen Comes was a formulative book for me when I was a child, one that is still creepy to this day. So when I spied a much newer Mary Downing Hahn book at the last library book sale I went to, I definitely grabbed it.

Title: One for Sorrow
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Genre: Children’s horror
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Still creepy
Cons: Suffers from protagonist issues

One for Sorrow is oddly timely, since it takes place during the Spanish Flu in 1918/1919. It follows Annie Browne, who has moved to a new town and started at a new school. She’s almost immediately latched onto by another girl, Elsie Schneider, who is hateful and mean and keeps Annie away from the other girls so she can’t make other friends.

Elsie is eventually home sick for a week, allowing Annie to get away from her and make new friends. But when Elsie dies of the Spanish Flu, it gives her the opportunity to make sure Annie can never get away from her.

I had to put the book down for a few days in the middle because life was so awful for poor Annie (though she’s kind of a pushover and will go along with bullying) and I didn’t want to deal with. But, in general, this book was a fast read, with good imagery,

My biggest complaint is Annie, and the way Annie is treated by the plot. Annie doesn’t do anything to try and help herself, really. She doesn’t stand up for anything, either when Elsie is pushing her into things she doesn’t want to do or when her new friends are doing things she doesn’t agree with. And once the haunting begins, it doesn’t get any better.

And–SPOILER ALERT–Annie doesn’t even do anything to get rid of Elsie, in the end. A nice old lady who can see ghosts conveniently comes along, and shows Elsie the way to move on.

It reminded me of the House of Many Ways, which we read as part of a readalong of the Howl’s Moving Castle series (Howl’s here, Castle in the Air here). In it, the main character is a little girl by the name of Charmain, but she doesn’t really do anything. Grown-ups come in at the end and do most of the real work, and it felt the same here.

House of Many Ways was one of the last things Diana Wynne Jones wrote before she died, and Mary Downing Hahn has been writing children’s horror for around 40 years. It makes me wonder…do authors, as they get older, sometimes feel bad about the danger they put their child protagonists into? Does it make more sense to them, over time, to have someone older and wiser come in and save the child?

I’ll admit that’s a pretty big leap to take based off of two data points. I would need to make an actual study of it–read different children authors’ books over time, see if there’s a trend toward children becoming less proactive throughout the books. But it did strike me as an interesting coincidence.

What do you think, squiders? Have you noticed this trend, or am I seeing things that aren’t there? Read this book, or any other newer Mary Downing Hahn book?

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