It’s 1918 and the war is burning Europe. Troops from the USA have been sent over the Atlantic to fight with the allies, while back home the influenza epidemic breaks out.
Annie Brown has just moved to Mount Pleasant. She is the new girl at this school and all she wants is to make some friends and have a happy school year. Alas, the one girl that has no other friend in her class decides that Annie will be her best friend. And that’s because Elsie Schneider has no friends, even though she’s been going to the same school for a while now. Her classmates want nothing to do with her because she is mean, a liar and a thief. Her last name, which is German, is a reason for the rest of the girls to make fun at her. The Germans are not good people, they are the ones that started this war, where many fathers and uncles have gone to fight.
The decision for the girls to be best friends is Elsie’s alone. Annie is not comfortable with that, but what can she do? What could she possibly say? She didn’t know this girl before and she didn’t know that Elsie has no other friends. When Elsie invites herself at Annie’s home after school, Annie doesn’t feel easy, but she guesses that at some point, Elsie will have to go back to her place. But Elsie seems to envy her for her home, her parents, her room and her toys. This doesn’t end well and Annie tries to find a way to not be friends with Elsie any more, but Elsie doesn’t take it. One day, Elsie doesn’t come to school, so Annie get’s the chance to actually meet her other classmates and hang out and play with them. Soon she becomes part of their gang, and she is no longer an outcast.
In the midst of the epidemic, people start wearing masks and take precautions but they are not always fruitful. Soon, Mount Pleasant and the whole Baltimore is mourning their dead. Young and old people, men and women, even children are not spared. One of the influenza victims is Elsie Schneider and now Annie and the rest of the girls feel so bad about themselves for being mean and tormenting the last time they saw Elsie. Even so, life goes on for the living. Sometimes, also for the dead. Because Elsie refuses to stay dead. She comes back as ghost and is making Annie’s life a living hell.
In this book we see many different themes that are present in middle grade ages. Apart from the influenza epidemic that added another level to the story, it talks a lot about bullying, envy between children and the blur that those years would have with respect to treating injuries and so on. It’s pretty clear that Elsie had issues. She didn’t just woke up one day and decided to be mean with everyone. She felt that she lacked in many aspects of life, being not that wealthy and having a step mother instead of her own. We don’t see much about this relationship, but after Elsie’s death we see a bit more of her stepmother and it seems that this was all in Elsie’s imagination.
It is a story that can keep the reader engaged, which means it must have something good. It is also a ghost story, a spooky read perfect for young readers that like this genre, without any fear of ugly nightmares. Nothing gore or unsuitable can be found in the story. It would be nice to have more background information so as to understand Elsie’s behavior, but since the story was being told from Annie’s point of view, we didn’t have that chance.
Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. The views expressed are my personal and honest opinion.