The Hanukkah Ghosts by Malka Penn
Holiday House, 1995. 978-0823411450
Synopsis: While her father is on a business trip, Susan is sent to England to spend Hanukkah with her great aunt Elizabeth. While she is exploring the castle and the surrounding moor, Susan begins to see things: there are horses in the stable that have not been there for years, a boy with a crutch who mistakes her for someone else, and there are these lights in the window of an unused room upstairs. Susan didn’t think she believed in ghosts, but she’s determined to figure out why she is seeing these past images of the castle’s inhabitants.
Why I picked it up: The title and the premise reminded me of A Christmas Carol.
Why I finished it: This was a short, but somewhat intriguing read. I wouldn’t say that it’s a story about Hanukkah, although the Jewish holiday does play a role in the story. Susan isn’t that in touch with her Jewish heritage since her mother has passed and her father doesn’t seem to be that invested in any tradition whatsoever. So when Susan is once again exposed to the tradition of lighting the menorah to remember the miracle of the oil, she not only finds herself becoming more immersed with the holiday but with her great-aunt as well. True to the gothic tradition, Penn uses the ghosts as a metaphor for the power of a miracle. The notion that Susan is trying to create a sense of peace for spirits more than fifty years old is a somewhat sentimental one, but as a plot device, it helps Susan grow into a more interesting character. She becomes much more sure of herself both as a person and in her ability to help others in need. The ending was somewhat romantic for my taste, but Penn doesn’t seem to pull any punches about what could or could have happened. It’s a quick read that can be enjoyed any time of the year, though I imagine it’s better enjoyed with a warm beverage curled up in a chair by the fire when the weather outside gets frightful.
Other related materials: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson; Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Majella Lue Sue; The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, pictures by Garth Williams; The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett