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The Hungry Ghost

The Hungry Ghost

Published: 24 Sep 2020

Paperback / softback, 256 pages

Recommended for age 11+

By H.S. Norup

Published by Pushkin Children's Books

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Freja arrives in Singapore during the month of the hungry ghost, when old spirits are said to roam the streets. She's struggling to settle into her dad's new, 'happy' family, and dreams only of escaping home and leaving this hot, unfamiliar city. Then one night, a mysterious girl in a white dress appears in the garden.

Freja follows this figure to lush, secretive corners of the city, seeking to understand the girl's identity. Her search will lead her to an old family genre_fiction:mystery stories- one that must be unravelled before the month is over, to allow both girls to be freed from the secrets of the past.

Tagged China

Reviewed by Ellie Labbett

The Hungry Ghost follows twelve-year-old Freja’s unsettled beginnings in Singapore, having left her unwell mother in Denmark to begin a life with her dad’s new family. We join a character in turmoil: trying to find her feet in a new city, struggling with her dad’s absorption with work and worrying about betraying her mum. But one night, Freja spots a figure through her bedroom window. Following her, she discovers the girl to be a Hungry Ghost named Ling, traditionally believed to walk restlessly during the seventh month of the Chinese year. This catapults an investigation into Ling’s identity, Singapore’s past and the protagonist’s own family history. Can Freja help Ling to find peace, and what might she discover about herself on her way?

This story provides a fascinating insight into Chinese traditions and mythology, alongside an intricate mystery of loss and memory. What I enjoyed the most was how Freja’s search to help Ling led to her own inner journey. Without giving too much away, it becomes clear to the reader that it is not just Ling’s past that has been forgotten, but a part of Freja’s own life prior to Singapore. Norup approaches personal grief with a very delicate hand; she invites readers to notice the behaviours and things left unsaid between Freja and her family. In doing so, she allows the reader to piece together threads of the forgotten past alongside the protagonist. Freja’s story does not shy away from the impact of grief, it approaches repressed memories and parents with mental illness, which may provide a much needed affirmation for pupils that have had similar experiences.

Norup reveals Freja’s past with a great deal of care for the child reader, but perhaps the more mature subject matter makes this book more appropriate as a direct teacher recommendation. It would be a very fulfilling independent read for children in Year Six or Key Stage Three, the quality of writing is excellent. Norup’s acknowledgements give details about her time in Singapore and her writing makes it is quite clear that she has trod the same path as Freja, seen the sights and heard the sounds.

I have recently completed my primary teaching degree and am passionate about the power of reading in changing lives. I am committed to championing diverse children’s literature and ensuring that every child feels valued and seen in the stories that they read.