Book Review: The Hungry Ghost

By H. S . Norup

Well paced plot, exciting setting, intriguing mystery and lots emotional turmoil, all skilfully woven together by the author.

When her mother is unable to look after her due to illness, Freja is sent from her home in Denmark to Singapore to live with her father and his new family, 2nd wife Clementine, and their young twins, Eddie and Billie. Taken from her friends and the country she loves, to stay with a father who seems far too busy with work to spend any time with her, and, out of loyalty to her mother, reluctant to like Clementine or the twins, means poor Freja is miserable. But Freja has arrived in Singapore during the month of the hungry ghost, where spirits, fearful of being forgotten, are believed to roam the streets, and the local residents burn paper money and models to honour the memory of their departed loved ones. When Freja spots a girl in a white dress hanging around the garden, she decides to follow her, but could her new friend Ling actually be one of the hungry ghosts?

A captivating story, I loved the insights into Singapore’s culture and traditions, especially around the hungry ghost festival.  Beautifully written with lush description that allowed me feel the humidity of the climate, smell the food in the food markets, and be enthralled by the shrines, it was well balanced by the adventure, the mystery, and the emotional journey.

Freja is a super heroine and I have to say my heart broke for her. She has so much going on, any one of which would be enough of a struggle in its own right. Her mother’s illness, her father’s remarriage, the move to a strange new country, and on top of all that, she has a past trauma of her own to deal with. Perhaps having so much to contend with is the reason Freja is determined to help Ling.

I don’t want to give spoilers, so all I will say is that I enjoyed unravelling the past, the banyan tree and the fantastical elements, and also appreciated the lightly touched on social commentary, as well as the themes of suffering and dealing with grief.

This is fabulous story with many layers. Part ghost story, part mystery, it is also of story of suffering and heartache, of tragedy and loss. Although handled expertly, these are weighty themes and there is tragedy at the heart of this story so I would recommend it for the upper end of middle grade.

A highly recommended 10 out of 10 diamonds.

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