the great man himself

the great man come to life

“It is at such moments that the wise, standing on the thresholds of decaying old heaps of mansions, turn and leave, rush back to their homes and retreat under their bed-clothes. It takes a dose of thoughtlessness to go forward at such moments. And thank heavens for that, for no books would ever be written if it weren’t for those characters who did not look before they leaped.”—The Haunting of Charles Dickens


I

t’s no secret how I’ve been faring in the sweltering heat these last several weeks; not well, in case you’ve missed a post here and there. You can imagine my disappointment then upon realizing The Haunting of Charles Dickens, a mid-level reading adventure is a book set in Dickens’ world, revealed itself to a summertime story. But Haunting’s is a London summer, rainy and mysterious, a respite from our triple-digit heat as well as from the typical tween fare.

Meg Pickel’s brother Orion vanished from the rooftop garden of their home in London six months earlier. Since then, her family’s search for him has stalled entirely. Her father is paralyzed by the loss of his son and 12-year-old Meg has remained motionless, too, stilled by her age and gender into a place of waiting for someone else to return Orion home. The sudden and mysterious appearance of a strange light in Meg’s sleepless wanderings around her home draws her out into a darkened London, however, where she is finally wakened to her own responsibility and potential in the hunt for her missing brother—and is set on a happy collision course with her Godfather, the equally sleepless Charles Dickens.

The Haunting of Charles Dickens is deceptive. Author Lewis Buzbee’s story about a determined girl’s search for her beloved brother is only the top of this layer cake. In addition to addressing themes including the exploitation of child labor and the marginalization of women, Haunting is also a straightforward letter of devotion to books and their power to connect our otherwise disparate human experience.

To put it mildly, there’s a lot going on here.

Buzbee’s considerable ambition aside, it is hard not to love any author for the kind of confidence he assumes in his young readers. The Haunting of Charles Dickens is told entirely in the voice and literary conventions of the author Buzbee brings to life as Meg’s co-conspirator in bringing her brother home. It is always gratifying to grab hold of a book intended for children that assumes they are capable of reading up and through material presented in a challenging way.

Marcel—a 12-year-old with some similarities to Haunting‘s heroine Meg Pickel, those tedious petticoats aside—took a pass at this one, too, and here’s what he had to say:

Charles Dickens was a break from the norm if we’re comparing it to most of the books written for older children and younger teens,” he told me. “I thought that the writing was really beautiful even though Meg, the main character, was impatient in a lot of parts in the book.

“The beginning was a little slow,” he conceded, “but once you got going it was good.”

You know, what I said, only expressed more succinctly.

A find for tweens with higher vocabulary, an interest in history in general or social justice issues specifically, pick up The Haunting of Charles Dickens for a carefully-crafted mystery, an escape in time and from contemporary children’s content.


Thanks so much to Bookworks, Albuquerque’s premier bookstore, for the opportunity to discover and enjoy a book we would never have stumbled upon otherwise. Want to give a gift to a child that will turn heads and start a discussion? Be subversive. Buy a book. And do it at Bookworks!