New & Noteworthy
A reader doesn’t expect a novel about the haunting of a long dead author to be lyrical but that is the case with The Haunting of Charles Dickens by Lewis Buzbee, who also authored Steinbeck’s Ghost. Buzbee also provides keen insight into the horrid conditions children lived and worked under in London in the 19th century. Black and white illustrations by Greg Ruth enhance the story built around a missing boy and the quest by Meg Pickel and Charles Dickens to find him.
It is the year of Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee and London is bustling. However, for young Meg, nothing is right with the world. Her beloved older brother Orion has gone missing. Her father and aunt are busy with the family’s printing business and Meg feels that it falls on her shoulders to find her brother.
One night she steals out to look for him and makes two surprising discoveries: She stumbles upon a séance and meets an old family friend, the author Charles Dickens’, also unable to sleep and roaming the rooftops of London.
Mr. Dickens, or the Great Man as some call him, is haunted for two reasons. He has a severe case of writer’s block and he’s distressed about the horrific conditions under which children work in the city of London.
On the night that Meg and Mr. Dickens meet on the rooftop they see a green glow emanating from Satis House, long empty. Of course, they have to check it out. That is where they come upon a séance in progress and Meg is sure she spots her brother there. When Dickens and Meg visit the decrepit empty building in the daylight, they are visited by the ghost of a child and Meg discovers a sign that her brother has been there—an etching of the sign of the constellation Orion. Upon telling Meg’s father of the discovery he reluctantly gives permission for Meg to hunt for her brother with Dickens. With Dickens, who is in disguise, Meg surely sees things no child should see. But Meg is one of the lucky children—she only has to see starved, overworked children. Other children live and die daily in London. And that’s what haunts Charles Dickens.
As Meg and the author hunt for Orion, their eyes are not only opened to the plight of children, they are awoken to the fact that children disappear daily in the city. Eventually they discover that Orion had been stolen to work in the tunnels under the city in preparation for the railway.
This novel is an interesting mix of the delightful and the horrid. The reader cannot help but enjoy the depiction of Charles Dickens and cannot help but be bothered by the plight of ill-fated children—those forgotten by the city at large. The novel also celebrates the power of words and shows how Dickens’ published works were used to improve conditions for children.
A great teen read.