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The Hungry Ghost

H.S. Norup

Pushkin Press – 24th September 2020

‘What could be worse than dying and no-one remembering you existed?”

The Hungry Ghost is a tale of two forgotten lives; of memories locked away and finding the key to unlock peace.

This really is an atmospheric read – an absolute feast for the senses. I was transported to Singapore where I inhaled the peachy aroma of Frangipani trees and the sweet smell of night flowers heavy in the air, breathed in the bonfire smoke and incense and felt the humid heat of the rainforest. I became totally immersed in the culture and savoured the foods and Feng Shui. H S Norup’s personal experience of living in the far east makes the Oriental setting totally authentic and believable.

Freija arrives in Singapore to live with her father, stepmother and their two twin boys. It’s the month of the ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’ when it’s believed that the gates of the afterlife open to allow the spirits of ancestors and relatives to roam the Earth. Out on the street, tea lights twinkle to mark the offerings of food and bank notes left out to feed the spirits, to make them comfortable until the next year.

A mysterious girl wearing a white dress begins appearing to Freija in the garden – could this be a restless spirit that needs her help? Or perhaps she has come to help Freija. As the story unfolds, Freija follows the illusive figure to secret places, shrouded in stories of Pontianak – dangerous spirits. She is determined to discover the girl’s identity but uncovers a secret from her own family’s past. Freija is haunted by distant recollections of trauma and must unlock painful memories that have been stored away before the The Hungry Ghost Festival ends. I was gripped by the mystery surrounding Freija’s past and had to stop myself reading ahead on more than one occasion as I was dying to solve it – the restless spirits kept me up reading late into the night!

The combat-wearing character of Freija will appeal to both boys and girls. Never without her Swiss Army knife and survival gear, she is an independent and fearless explorer. Clementine, Freja’s stepmother is also a very well-developed character and I really enjoyed seeing the social media mad, manicured party planner evolve.

The Hungry Ghost presents an opportunity for Key Stage 2 children to not only experience a little of Chinese culture but equally explore the often difficult dynamics of family life. We watch as she struggles to fit in with her father’s ‘new family’ and the feelings associated with this that many children will be able to identify with.

One final little teaser; watch out for two interesting characters that make a fleeting appearance in Chapter 15 as you will later discover their significance.

With thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for the digital copy to review in advance of publication.

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