The Haunting of Aveline Jones

Authored by Phil Hickes
Illustrated by Keith Robinson
Published by Usborne

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Has a second-hand book ever made you ponder the mysterious connections with those who possessed it before you? If so, then this story will colour that calm wondering with a new element of terror!

Aveline Jones is left with an aunt due to a family crisis. Phil Hickes quickly adds fresh tension to this familiar scenario, creating in Malmouth the unsettled air of a town with ‘all the right ingredients for a haunting’. Or is it perhaps Aveline’s obsession with ghost stories that has heightened her imagination so that she sees an innocent Halloween decoration and fears something ‘otherworldly’?

Practical Aunt Lilian dismisses her fears and provides rational explanations for the creepy disturbances, but as the mood gradually ratchets up from unsettling to menacing the reader becomes less sure. Why is the bookseller horrified over the book he has just given Aveline? What is the significance of the missing story? Who is the mysterious Primrose Penberthy? Aveline herself becomes desperate, despite her better judgment, to discover the answers. However terrified, she cannot stop reading until she knows; immersed in this gripping book, we share her predicament.

This is a powerful book with a cracking plot; the tension increases as the story proceeds so that unease gradually becomes terror. When Aveline thinks that ‘For the first time in her life she understood the phrase blood-chilling‘ there is no sense of exaggeration. For that reason, this is one for upper KS2 and beyond in my opinion. It is a masterclass in suspense writing, and the ending of Primrose’s story is fraught with emotion.

It would work well read aloud in class, with rich opportunities for discussion and prediction. The main narrative includes intriguing snippets from Primrose’s diary and a wonderful chapter of dramatic storytelling; it would be interesting to compare the different writing styles. In addition to the compelling plot, there is a vivid setting that almost has a character’s presence and potency. Phil Hickes uses a wealth of similes, always deftly. It is a challenge to create a comparison that is at once fresh, apt and readily understood by children, but ‘chip wrappers…like greasy ghosts’ is an example of how he succeeds time and time again.

This is a book to devour, but also to savour. We leave Aveline keen for a long and boring journey home, but there are more Aveline books to come. Readers of this first adventure will be glad that her life is not to stay uneventful for long.