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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Just before summer begins, 13-year-old Ali finds an odd photograph in the attic. She knows the two children in it are her mother, Claire, and her aunt Dulcie. But who’s the third person, the one who’s been torn out of the picture? Ali figures she’ll find out while she’s vacationing in Maine with Dulcie and her four-year-old daughter, Emma, in the house where Ali’s mother’s family used to spend summers. All hopes for relaxation are quashed shortly after their arrival, though, when the girls meet Sissy, a kid who’s mean and spiteful and a bad influence on Emma. Strangest of all, Sissy keeps talking about a girl named Teresa who drowned under mysterious circumstances back when Claire and Dulcie were kids, and whose body was never found. At first Ali thinks Sissy’s just trying to scare her with a ghost story, but soon she discovers the real reason why Sissy is so angry. . . . Mary Downing Hahn is at her chilling best in this new supernatural tale that’s certain to send shivers down h…

Deep and Dark and Dangerous

by Mary Downing Hahn

Overall Book Review:

Thirteen-year-old Ali’s curious when she finds a picture of her mother and aunt as children at their summer cottage by the lake, but she’s more curious about the girl who’s been ripped out of the picture. She’s mystified when both her mother and her aunt, Dulcie, deny knowing who the girl is.

Although Ali’s mother and aunt stopped going to the lake years and years ago, Dulcie’s going back to the cottage this summer and invites Ali to come along to tend Dulcie’s five-year-old daughter, Emma.

Ali’s mother, Claire, doesn’t want her to go, claiming the lake is “deep and dark and dangerous.” But Ali goes.

At the lake, Ali and Emma meet bratty Sissy who’s always wearing the same faded blue bathing suit. Sissy gets Emma to be her friend and excludes Ali; she teaches Emma to be rude to Ali and her mother; but Sissy also taunts and torments Emma.

The book’s creepy without been terrifying. There’s plenty of foreshadowing and many clues, so adult readers won’t be surprised.

Although it’s not necessarily the book’s purpose, it’s a great cautionary tale about the consequences of lying. Both Claire and Dulcie have lived with their secret for years, and it’s taken a terrible toll on them and on their children.

Some parents and younger readers may be disappointed that there’s almost no discussion of any theological questions about ghosts or the afterlife. Emma does wonder what will happen to Sissy and if she will cease to exist once her body is laid to rest. Readers may also find it disconcerting that Sissy has a physical body. It’s a great opportunity to discuss your beliefs with your children.

The initial “pull” of solving the mystery of the picture doesn’t seem that powerful, but by page 26 when Emma is describing her dreams about the bones at the bottom of the lake, the creepiness takes over, generating interest in the story.

Reading Level: 4.3 (range 2.4-6.5).

Also good for reluctant readers.

Of interest to girls.

This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:

 This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.

3 G*d; 3 h*ll

Mention of lake being dangerous, of people drowning there each year; adult sisters yell, say cruel things to each other; mention of book where character gets spanked; mother imagines daughter drowning, getting sick, getting bitten by snake; Ali wants to slap Sissy’s face, later tries to slap her; Sissy destroys Emma’s sand castle; Emma hits Ali; Emma has tantrum, screams and kicks; Dulcie shouts at Ali; mention that Teresa drowned after going out in Ali’s grandfather’s canoe by herself; Sissy dunks Emma repeatedly; someone breaks into aunt’s art studio and destroys work; Sissy says Dulcie may have pushed Teresa out of boat and left her there, claims Dulcie and Claire murdered Teresa; Dulcie raises her hand, ready to hit her daughter; Dulcie pulls arm off doll, throws it in lake, grabs doll and throws it in lake; Sissy throws doll in lake, Emma falls in lake trying to get doll; Teresa used to take doll from Claire, tease her; Dulcie threw doll in lake, Teresa jumped in after it and canoe capsized; Teresa swam to doll, disappeared, drowning in lake; Dulcie bullies Claire on phone (as adults); bird rescued from cat dies.

Mature Subject Matter:

Death, lying, supernatural/ghosts

Alcohol / Drug Use:


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About the Reviewer

On May 15, 2014 Compass Book Ratings acquired Many reviews were acquired from and these reviews were not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist. Nevertheless, the reviews contain useful content information which is included.