By Ellen Oh
Paperback, 279 pages
Harper, forced to move from NY to DC with her family, hates the stupid old house she now lives in. It’s too hot and something about it sets her on edge. Things get worse when Michael, her four-year-old brother, starts talking about his friend Billy that Harper can’t see and acting strange. Harper has her own problems, however – she’s missing memories. She knows there was an accident at school and then something bad happened to her afterward, but she doesn’t know what and her family won’t tell her. As strange and scary things start happening around the new house, Harper begins to realize her missing memories might have something to do with what’s happening to her little brother – but she’ll have to remember if she wants to help him.
I was really hankering for some middle-grade and Spirit Hunters really hit the spot! It’s dark, genuinely creepy and touching, plus it’s written by an own voices author – everything I love in my MG!
Harper is Korean American and some old family traditions play a part throughout the story (the details of which I’ll let you discover on your own). Oh also touches on that dreaded question that anyone who doesn’t “look American” has heard probably a million times: “Where are you from?” You know, the type that’s followed up by “No, where are you really from?” after you list your birth city/state. -sigh- Racism is not a major player in this book, but it’s touched on in a way that genuinely fits into the story.
Harper is a realistic, likable teen (I think she’s 13?) She loves paper, she gets along with her little brother and just wants to find some good food in her new city. On top of hating her new home and city – people in DC are smiley and friendly and Harper much prefers the NY attitude of minding your own business – Harper is also dealing with migraines and panic attacks after an accident she suffered before the move. Tension is high between Harper and her older sister and she just wants to feel normal again. And really, can you blame her?
The story is told from the third person POV, following Harper, but readers also get snippets from her journal, which her therapist suggested she start after the move. I enjoyed the dual perspectives from the same character. Harper is an interesting character – she’s doing her best to be a good older sister, but is struggling with the new home and the damage caused by the accident she can’t remember. Her relationship with her mother is somewhat strained too, as Harper tries to regain her lost memories.
This is a ghost story grounded with realistic characters and I loved it. Harper and her family aren’t perfect. Harper isn’t a genius, she isn’t the perfect sister or daughter and she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Harper’s mother has a strained relationship with her own mother, which affects the whole family. Harper’s father is doing his best to play the nice guy and keep everyone happy. With the help of her neighbor-turned-friend, Dayo (who loves to watch Antiques Roadshow!), Harper begins to realize ghosts are real and they’re trying to hurt her family.
Spirit Hunters is intriguing, meaningful and dark. There were scenes where I was genuinely creeped out and I loved it! I also loved how Oh blended Korean traditions into the ghost theme. Harper is a great character and even her brother avoided being a clichéd annoying little kid (except when he couldn’t help it.) I can’t wait to read more in this series! I need that paperback to come out ASAP so my editions can match. If you’re looking for a spooky read for fall or a book for younger readers with a protagonist who has memory issues and suffers migraines, definitely pick this up!