My Very Favorite Pre-Teen Read

Wait Till Helen Comes - Mary Downing Hahn

I'm supposed to be working right now, but this post got me all nostalgic and inspired me and I'll be useless until I get it out of my system. (Yay for working at home so the boss can't see me slacking!)


Back in elementary school I was a book order junky. I absolutely LIVED for when the teacher passed out those colorful catalog order forms. (Book fairs nearly put me in happiness comas.) On one such joyous occasion I had planned ahead and managed to save up enough of my weekly allowance to buy several books, which is a small miracle. I was also a My Little Pony and Barbie junky back then. My Barbies and Ponies had waaaaaaaay more clothes than I did. But I digress.


This time it was a Halloween themed catalog. Wait Till Helen Comes was an impulse buy when I still had a few dollars left after getting what I really wanted, which, if I remember correctly, was James Howe's Bunnicula and The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Jim Davis's Garfield In Disguise. I'd like to take a moment to marvel at some paperbacks only costing a few dollars each back then. Oh! the 80s! How I miss you! (But not your fashions.) While I will always adore Bunnicula and Garfield, Wait Till Helen Comes was so surprisingly engaging that I got in trouble for sneak-reading it during a school assembly. Me. The Good Child Who Never Got Detention (all capitalized because I'm the only one among my siblings who managed that feat).


I can't objectively examine the text, but I imagine an impartial observer would find a competent ghost story for young readers that ticks all the boxes: good pacing, suspense, haunted graveyards, an area with a history of mysterious deaths, and characters dealing with family strife as well as the spooky stuff, etc. What made me love it so much that I read two copies to disintegration before I turned twelve was Molly.


Look at that cover. See the girl behind the tree? That's Molly. She was a lot like me back then. Reading this book, for the very first time I experienced what it's like to really connect with a character. Molly was a little older than me, but she looked like me, she loved books like me, and she collected unicorn figurines like me. The similarities didn't go much further than that, but there was enough there that I was able to put myself in the story and live it on an entirely new level. The spooky stuff in the book happened to someone like me. It was a small step to think "This could happen to me." And that, in my opinion, makes for the bestest, spookiest ghost stories.