Book Review: One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

Title: One for Sorrow
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Genre: Historical, Middle Grade, Ghosts
Age Group: Middle Grade
Rating: 3 stars
Purchase: Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Against the ominous backdrop of the influenza epidemic of 1918, Annie, a new girl at school, is claimed as best friend by Elsie, a classmate who is a tattletale, a liar, and a thief. Soon Annie makes other friends and finds herself joining them in teasing and tormenting Elsie. Elsie dies from influenza, but then she returns to reclaim Annie’s friendship and punish all the girls who bullied her. Young readers who revel in spooky stories will relish this chilling tale of a girl haunted by a vengeful ghost.

One for Sorrow is an another addition to Mary Downing Hahn’s ever-growing oeuvre, and it’s a solid one, although perhaps not as refreshing or as creepy as I had hoped.

Against the influenza epidemic of 1918, Annie is a new girl at school. She’s immediately claimed as best friend by Elsie, a bossy tattletale classmate who Annie somewhat sympathizes with because of her horrible situation at home. Yet Elsie easily distances Annie from the other classmates, destroys her favorite doll, and soon turns out to be the worst friend in history. When Elsie is ill for a week, Annie makes new friends, much to Elsie’s dismay.

Then, the influenza epidemic strikes, and Elsie grows ill and dies. She returns from the dead to haunt Annie and her new friends, and to make Annie believes she’s responsible for Elsie dying. She makes Annie’s life a miserable, going so far as to get her locked up in an insane asylum. Annie must find a way to fight back against her unwanted ghostly companion.

It’s old school horror, but doesn’t have any of the delicious eeriness that usually accompanies those stories. The historical setting works, the writing is excellent, the children are cruel and wicked, but it’s still missing something. Elsie’s ghost isn’t particularly scary. She lets Annie do wicked things, but it’s not scary, not creepy, not eerie.

Also, all the characters are horrible. Even Annie. She decides to hate Elsie right away when it’s obvious and should be obvious to her that Elsie has a horrible childhood and could really use a friend. Maybe Elsie should temper it down somewhat, but she could still use a friend. I found it downright cruel how even the adults were mean to Elsie. That’s terrible. All the girl characters were nasty and spoiled, and the adults weren’t much better.

I was also rather annoyed by Annie not being able to do anything on her own. She wanted to get rid of Elsie’s ghost, but she didn’t really do anything about it. She didn’t try research, or try to contact anyone who could help her. She was very passive, and just let things happen to her.

Anyway, it’s a good story for middle graders, but not the best, although I did enjoy the writing and pacing, and the historical setting. The characters just weren’t very likeable, and the story wasn’t creepy enough.


  1. I’m always looking for a ghost story so this does intrigue me. I like the time period and setting, as well as the premise of the vengeful ghost. Based on the blurb and your review, I don’t feel sorry for Annie or the girls that had bullied Elsie. It’s terrible that Annie finds new friends and mistreats Elsie cause the other bad ones are. That really sucks. Anyhoo, thanks for your honest review. I am interested in reading this story, even though you say it wasn’t creepy enough and that it felt like it was missing something. At least the writing is excellent.

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