One for Sorrow

A month from today, Mary Downing Hahn’s newest spooky story, One for Sorrow, hits the shelves. It’s pretty well-known that I’m a wuss, so I figured this book would likely freak me out. I didn’t, however, expect it to scare the crap out of me–so much so that I couldn’t read it when it was dark outside. I don’t know how most young readers will respond to the book (the target audience is 4th-6th grade according to Booklist), but I found it to be absolutely terrifying. That’s probably all I need to say to make sure it flies off my library shelves (if I make the decision to purchase it).

The year is 1918. America is involved in a world war, and an influenza epidemic has gripped many communities. Annie Browne and her family have just moved to town. She is the new girl at school, and she’s nervous about making friends.

Someone claims Annie as a best friend almost immediately, but Annie’s not so sure she truly wants to be friends with Elsie, a strange, violent, and manipulative girl who won’t let Annie play or befriend the other girls at school. Annie’s a bit scared of Elsie, and she’s not sure how to free herself from her “friend’s” clutches.

Eventually, when Elsie’s out of school for a couple of days, Annie gets her chance to befriend some other girls and escape Elsie’s influence. Annie even joins her new friends in mocking Elsie. She feels a little guilty about making Elsie miserable, but she doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize her friendship with the other girls. Besides, Elsie brings a lot of this negative attention on herself.

While Annie and her new friends are tormenting Elsie, the horrible Spanish Influenza has hit their town. Dozens of people are dying each day. Schools and businesses close, and people are taking all the precautions they can to keep from getting sick.

One of Annie’s friends, Rosie, gets the bright idea to take advantage of the situation. She comes up with a plan to visit all the homes with black wreaths on the door, pretend to know the deceased, and load up on all of the cookies, candy, and cakes left for the mourners to eat. As for Annie, she does not want to see any dead bodies, but she goes along with Rosie’s morbid plan. (It’s hard to say no to Rosie.) Things are going okay with this whole scheme…until they recognize a girl lying in a coffin. It’s Elsie, Annie’s former “best friend” and the target of the girls’ relentless teasing.

Annie feels horrible about Elsie’s death, and she wonders if she and her friends may have had something to do with it. Annie’s feelings only intensify when she realizes that Elsie hasn’t gone very far. Her ghost has returned and is determined to make Annie her eternal best friend…or else.

Annie doesn’t know where to turn. Elsie, the very definition of a vengeful spirit, is turning everyone against Annie, making her say and do things she would never normally do, and convincing her friends, her teachers, and even her parents that Annie is going crazy. If Elsie doesn’t cross over soon, Annie’s entire world will be upended.

Is there any way for Annie to rid herself of Elsie for good, or will she forever be the focus of Elsie’s rage? Read One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn to find out!


One for Sorrow is a great fit for middle grade readers. I’m on the fence right now about recommending it to upper elementary readers. I’ll do a bit more research and read other reviews before I decide whether or not to place it in my elementary school library. If you’d like to weigh in on this, please let me know what you think in the comments.

In addition to being an excellent scary story, One for Sorrow teaches readers about the horrors of the flu epidemic of 1918 as well as providing a cautionary tale about bullying. Now, I’m not saying bullies will be haunted by the ghosts of those they tormented or anything, but it’s clear that there was bad behavior on all sides here. Elsie was horrible to Annie and the other girls in school, but did that mean the other girls should have been equally horrible? No, it did not. I think the lesson here is that you never know what someone else is going through, and a little kindness goes a long way.

If you’d like to read this gripping novel for yourself, One for Sorrow will be available on July 18th. It’s definitely a page-turner that will be hard to put down. For more information on this book and others by Mary Downing Hahn, visit the author’s website.

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