Halloween is fast approaching. Carving pumpkins and making costumes are part of the fun. Another way to enjoy this spooky season is through books. My daughters and I have picked a few books to help set the Halloween mood.
Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffenegger
If you are looking for a book that is part Gothic horror and part Victorian ghost story, Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is the perfect choice — and it’s being released just in time for Halloween. Unlike her bestselling novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, this book is more about death than life, and obsession rather than love.
As the title’s nod to the poetry of William Blake suggests, Her Fearful Symmetry has much to do with twinship and the duality of nature. The book starts with the death of Elspeth Noblin, a 44-year-old dealer of antique books in London. Her part in the story is far from over, however. She has left her flat overlooking the famous Highgate Cemetery — a flat that her spirit continues to supposedly benevolently inhabit — to her twin sister’s twin daughters, Julia and Valentina.
Twenty years earlier, Julia and Valentina’s mother, Edie, married an American, Jack Poole, and moved with him to Lake Forest, IL. The girls grew up never knowing their English aunt. When the twins, described as “unemployed and rather indolent,” discover that they have inherited her flat, they are intrigued. Julia, especially, thinks “it’ll be great … we’ll have our own apartment, we won’t have to work … we can do whatever we want.”
It soon becomes clear, however, that she means whatever she wants, as Julia controls each and every action of the pair and often manipulates and lies to the younger-by-six-minutes Valentina in order to get her way. Eventually, Julia’s bullying becomes so overwhelming that Valentina seeks Elspeth’s help in achieving the freedom for which she longs — help which may or may not be in her best interest.
What Niffenegger does best in Her Fearful Symmetry is create interesting, complicated characters and an evocative setting. Edie and Elspeth are hiding a secret that caused them to remain estranged for 20 years. Julia and Valentina are described as having an unsettling appearance, as they “were not merely identical: they were mirror image twins … involving every cell in their bodies,” and possibly their motivations and influence on others, as well.
Elspeth’s former lover and downstairs neighbor, Robert Fanshaw, is devastated by Elspeth’s death, yet finds himself drawn to the young twins’ startling resemblance to their dead aunt. Upstairs in a room with newspaper-covered windows lives Martin, an obsessive compulsive yet brilliant crossword puzzle creator who drove his wife, Marijke, away with his increasingly erratic behavior.
But by far the most compelling aspect of the story is Highgate Cemetery itself. From moss-covered stairs and overgrown holly bushes sprouted from Victorian funeral wreathes to crooked headstones and limestone mausoleums with oxidized copper doors, the descriptions of the resting place of luminaries such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Christina Rosetti are deliciously creepy.
Though Her Fearful Symmetry requires more than the usual willing suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the plot, it is the perfect read for you if you are looking for a mysteriously strange book this Halloween season.
By Jessica Verday
$17.99, Simon and Schuster
Ages 12 and up
The Hollow, the first book in a new trilogy by Jessica Verday, is the story of Abigail Archer, teenage daughter of the mayor of the small town Sleepy Hollow, NY. The action begins shortly after Abbey loses her best friend Kristen under mysterious circumstances. When Kristen vanishes at the bridge near Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (yes, the same bridge from Washington Irving’s short story), people are quick to assume that she killed herself — too quick, in Abbey’s opinion.
While in this lonely and confused state, Abbey meets Caspian, a handsome, mysterious young man who keeps popping up in the most unexpected places. He makes her feel normal again, and maybe even special. However, just as Abbey begins to believe that she can recover from the loss of Kristen, she learns a secret that makes her doubt her perception of reality and the people that she loves most.
A spine-tinglingly creepy story with a dash of history, this may be more appropriate for ages 14 and up due to its mature themes. The Hollow is sure to please teen fans of the Twilight series — and it’s coming out in time for Halloween.
(from the Mysteries Unwrapped Series)
By Charles Wetzel, illustrated by Josh Cochran
$5.95, Sterling Publishing
Ages 9 -12
My12-year-old’s recommendation this month is a nonfiction collection of stories about famous American “hauntings.” She said, “Haunted U.S.A. is one of those books you should read while you sit by the fire on a chill October night. It is so creepy that you will be scared to fall asleep!”
The book is full of stories from all across the United States, from the White House’s presidential ghosts to haunted statues in a cemetery in Chicago. Photographs and illustrations accompany each story.
Haunted U.S.A. is a great pick for spooky storytelling around the campfire or if you like a good scare all by yourself.