The Girl in the Locked Room Mary Downing Hahn ghost story kidlit middle grade book ghost story children's book book review horror

KidLit Book Review: The Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn


A family moves into an old, abandoned house. Jules’s parents love the house, but Jules is frightened and feels a sense of foreboding. When she sees a pale face in an upstairs window, though, she can’t stop wondering about the eerie presence on the top floor — in a room with a locked door. Could it be someone who lived in the house a century earlier?

Her fear replaced by fascination, Jules is determined to make contact with the mysterious figure and help unlock the door. Past and present intersect as she and her ghostly friend discover — and change — the fate of the family who lived in the house all those many years ago.


  • Title: The Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story
  • Author: Mary Downing Hahn
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • ISBN: 1328850927
  • Publication Date: September 4, 2018
  • For Ages: 10-12
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.

I’d like to thank Clarion Books for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


The Girl in the Locked Room is (at least initially) a story of two lonely little girls and the adults who fail them. The Girl is a ghost, locked away and forgotten, reliving the worst night of her life over and over again. Jules is a young woman who moves in just below The Girl’s room, forced to move from place to place by a father whose wanderlust and selfishness won’t allow him to see that his daughter needs stability and friendships that last longer than a year. Mary Downing Hahn writes an eerie yet gentle and loving tale of their unlikely friendship that changes the course of both of their lives.

Jules has a sensitivity for the paranormal. She used to see a witch every night in her bedroom — in what is easily the creepiest ghostly encounter in the novel — before her family mercifully moved out of that haunted house and into a slightly less haunted one. Her parents dismiss her repeated claims of paranormal visions, and they often outright ignore her or use her. Jules’s mother is a novelist, and at one point Jules’s experiences become fodder for a character in one of her mother’s books. (I have to admit, I may be focusing too much on this aspect of the book. I got quite angry at her parents for their treatment of Jules, but they both obviously love her, and they are not abusive in the slightest.)

Due to her ability to see ghosts, Jules notices The Girl right away. Though she is scared at first, fear soon gives way to curiosity, and Jules sets about investigating what happened to The Girl and how she may be able to help her. The focus on helping a friend — and the knowledge that, by doing so, she may lose her — is lovely and bittersweet. This is still very much a ghost story, but rather than startling us with rattling chains and terrifying moans, Hahn whispers to us with rustling leaves and soft sighs.

Happily, what begins as a story about two lonely girls does not end that way; love and friendship win the day, at least for some. This gentle tale leaves the reader with a sense of peace and closure. The Girl in the Locked Room is a beautiful, eerie story about bravery, selflessness, and righting the wrongs of the past. Mary Downing Hahn has written another wonderful ghost story, one best told on a bright summer day.


This is, at its core, a beautiful story about love and friendship. I give this book 4.5 out of 5 coffins.

4.5 Coffins

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