I was initially drawn to The Haunting of Aveline Jones because of the gorgeous cover art. I know that you’re not supposed to be judging books by their covers, but let’s be honest, we all do. This one immediately jumped out at me and drew me in, and once I read the blurb I was hooked.
The book follows Aveline Jones, who’s gone to stay with her Aunt Lilian for about a week or so whilst her mother travels up to Scotland to visit her own ill mother. Aveline’s aunt lives in the small coastal town of Malmouth, where she tutors some of the local children. Lilian and Aveline have something of a strained relationship, thanks to not having seen each other for a while, and Lilian’s slightly removed and regimented way of dealing with children takes some getting used to.
Aveline explores Malmouth and discovers a second hand book store, run by the elderly Mr Lieberman. She picks out an old and unusual book about local ghost stories, and is soon enthralled by the local tales. However, the final story in the book is crossed out. Wanting to learn more about this, Aveline discovers a mystery about a girl that disappeared in Malmouth thirty years ago, a girl who was convinced she was being stalked by a ghostly figure.
One of the things that I really like about The Haunting of Aveline Jones is that there’s not a huge amount of conflict. I thought the book was going to be setting up a stern and overbearing aunt figure who would cause all kinds of problems for Aveline, but instead she was a kind woman, just one who’s not used to having a young teen around. And it was nice to see this relationship evolve over the course of the book, and see the two of them become closer.
In fact, there wasn’t really any kind of adult foe or overbearing authority figure for Aveline to overcome, something that can become an easy trope in middle-grade books. Instead, the adults are well reasoned and kind people. They don’t instantly dismiss the things kids say out of hand just because they’re adults and know better. It also means that the mystery is able to be given centre stage without other issues that are superfluous.
The central mystery is where the book really shines, and author Phil Hickes is able to craft a story that goes from slightly unsettling to very scary in no time at all. The book managed to get under my skin in a way that few horror books do. It might have been the cold and rainy coastal village on the edge of Halloween that helped with this, but it was also the fact that Hickes didn’t give much away.
He slowly built up the idea of something ghostly lurking in the background, laying small seeds that would later bloom into very real fear. I’ve read a lot of adult horror books that aren’t even half as scary, and I think that it’s because those authors didn’t spend enough time building up the world and the atmosphere, slowly introducing more elements until you suddenly realise that you’re reading curled up beneath your blanket, sitting on edge. And the fact that he managed to do so in a relatively short book aimed at younger readers was astounding.
There were times I was reading that I found myself wondering if perhaps things got a little too scary, if maybe this might be too much for the target audience, but I don’t think it is. It’s just a book that’s able to appeal to a broader audience beyond just middle-grade readers. The Haunting of Aveline Jones is a story that can draw you in, that makes you want to devour it in a single sitting, and will have you turning on the lights to chase away the shadows. It might be best to read this on a dark and spooky night around Halloween, but just be warned that if you do you might end up hiding under your covers.
The Haunting of Aveline Jones is out now from Usborne Books.