Epic Win: Mary Downing Hahn

It’s hard for me not to bring the snark but can we have a moment for the fantastic Mary Downing Hahn? A lady so great she needs three names. Thanks to Pamela who gave me this book to read. Mar really knows how to write about children’s angst without just making it about boys and makeup. Jessica meets Daphne, who is the class weirdo but doesn’t seem to care. When working on a book project together, Jessica learns that Daphne lives out on an old farm with her senile Grandmother who barely feeds them and Daphne is basically taking care of her grandmother and her little sister, and almost starving to death. She doesn’t want anyone to know because they may take them away. Jessica struggles with not telling anyone, and also struggles with associating with Daphne who the kids at school make fun of. In the end Jessica tells her mother and the girls are put in an orphanage but then are finally adopted by a distant cousin. Daphne forgives Jessica but has to move away to an orphanage (are they even called that anymore?). Daphne is mad at first that Jessica told, but finally forgives her in the end, and distant relatives adopt them.

And seriously? I read this one night and bawled my eyes out.

MDH, as I like to call her, also wrote the Jellyfish Season, which I adored. it seems that she writes about girls who feel awkward, and not just in a I’m-going-through-puberty way, but girls who really can’t relate and try to reach out to their families and maybe don’t always succeed. Jessica is feeling especially crappy at school because her childhood best friend has suddenly become popular so Jessica tags along with the popular kids and although they are not very welcoming to her but she sticks it out anyway to be with her friend. Jessica, Jessica, I’ve been there. And in my early twenties, not just as a kid.

In my internet searches, I came to the realization that MDH also penned the horror classic.  Wait Till Helen Comes (not to be confused with the porno of the same title. I KILL myself.). and OH MY GOD I read the shit out of this one.

Some things I remember so vividly. The main character has parent that just remarried and they move into what used to be an old church. There was even a floorplan of the church included. My real estate fetish was in affect even back then, so I was into it. She also had a bratty stepsister who she hated but was super favored by the parents. The bratty stepsister became friends with Helen, the ghost of a little girl who drowned in the lake. Helen wanted brat girl to drown herself, Jenny Wilder style, in the lake so she’s have another ghost friend to play with. Main character saves her and all is well. And man, this shit was scary. And not in a Dawn’s secret passage scary, but pretty creepy.

However, I am not sure what is scarier, the ghost or the little girl’s mullet.

Mary Downing Hahn, I salute you.

I wish I knew you. We’d meet at a local coffee shop and you’d show up in your cozy cardigan, and we’d write short stories and share them with each other. And then I’d tell you about my struggling relationship with my mother and you’d say “there, there dear” and give me some tea.

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34 thoughts on “Epic Win: Mary Downing Hahn

  1. Rhiannon says:

    OMG YAY! I have Wait Til Helen Comes. That book was a garage sale find along with a handful of other similar books. Seriously, the best 50 cents I done ever spent garage sale-ing. Now I need to go find it and read it again.

  2. nikki says:

    So weird, I just recapped The Wind Blows Backward two days ago on my blog! I’ve also recapped Time for Andrew, Tallahassee Higgins and Following the Mystery Man. I finally found Daphne’s Book at a used bookstore, so that should be coming up in a few weeks.

    But YES! MDH is fantastic at writing about girls having trouble fitting in with the popular crowd….one reason that I couldn’t get enough of her books when I was a kid.

  3. Sadako says:

    I don’t think I read enough MDH back in the day. Definitely need to rectify.

    Also, just me or does the blond girl on the cover of Daphne’s Book look a little like Karen Brewer?

  4. Elizabeth says:

    MDH also wrote the phenomenal The Sara Summer about Emily, another awkward pre-teen girl whose best friend has defected to the popular crowd. Emily befriends Sara, the new girl in town who’s also a wild-at-heart misfit. Sara and Emily have various adventures all summer long and learn the true meaning of friendship. Loved that book!

  5. Katy says:

    I frickin’ love Daphne’s Book. It described my seventh grade experience perfectly. (Well, except for the befriending an orphan whose senile grandmother was starving her to death part.) I still reread it about once a year when I am feeling particularly PMSy.

  6. day012 says:

    I loved Wait Til Helen Comes I had totally forgotten all about it. That was one of the few books (along with So You Want to Be a Wizard) that scared me when I read them, or actually listened to them on my cassette player. My dad was really big about getting us books on tape from the library (and I still to this day love a good audiobook).

  7. day012 says:

    Actually it wasn’t So You Want to Be a Wizard it was some book there was a boy and he had an uncle, or something along those lines who was a wizard/somehow magic and there was something about a magic clock and there were hiding the clock from random evildoers. I feel like it had an old spooky-ish house on the cover.

    And I can’t believe this actually worked, I googled “house + magic clock” and it was the first hit. It’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

  8. Rio says:

    I love, love, LOVED Daphne’s Book! I used to read it obsessively in elementary school. I still have an old copy lying around in the car somewhere.

  9. Anne says:

    Wait Till Helen Comes scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. Anyone remember when SVT did a similar plotline (I think it was the Carnival Ghost) where a ghost at the carnival wants Liz to kill herself to be her friend? MDH’s book was SOOOO much better!

  10. Stacy says:

    OMG! I had been just skimming this post until I saw the cover of Wait Til Helen Comes, and instantly remembered the whole plot. Very good, eerie book.

  11. andrea jean says:

    Wait Til Helen Comes is awesome. And don’t forget The Doll in the Garden, another great one by Mary Downing Hahn. If I remember correctly, it has a ghost cat?

  12. Amber Tan says:

    Chiming in to join the MDH love…the lady can WRITE.

    Liek so many others here, I loved Daphne’s Book and thought Wait Til Helen Comes and The House with a Clock in Its Walls were da bomb. I remember that spooky-house cover too, day012. 🙂

  13. nikki says:

    Where were all of you back when I was in Junior High???? I loved MDH, but I couldn’t find ANYONE else who loved her like I did. Even my friends who were readers, would stare at me blankly when I asked if they read any books by MDH.

  14. Sadako says:

    Ohh, I LOVED House with a Clock in its Walls. And John Bellairs in general. The first one I ever read by him was the Curse of the Blue Figurine. I still remember random little elements of that book, like the Professor with the closet where he’d go to rant and rave. Awww, now I want to go back and read it.

  15. JoJo says:

    Oh my God! I have not thought about Wait Till Helen Comes in ages…and now I’m a scared fifth-grader all over again 🙂

    And Nikki, I second you. Imagine having people around into the same books back then! It was lonely reading Bitter Rivals in grade school. ( honestly my mother did not regulate my reading, she took me to the library and never questioned me, a ten year old black girl, coming out with a handful of Sweet Valley High books…I love my mom!)

  16. maybeimamazed02 says:

    Nikki and Jojo–I would have loved going to junior high with you guys! Those blank stares because I dared to read something that wasn’t R.L. Stine–I knew them well. 🙂

  17. Bridget says:

    I grew up in suburban Maryland, near where MDH lives (or lived, I have no idea about her current whereabouts), and she came and talked to my sixth grade English class. I *flipped* out. It was like meeting a Beatle. I brought in my stack of her books to sign, which she very kindly did. She wrote “Best fishes!” and drew a little fish doodle on the title page of The Jellyfish Season. Good times!

  18. Lauren says:

    Did Daphene have an elaborate fantasy about princesses and princes and did Jessica get caught playing with her by the popular kids? I remember reading a book as a kid where that happened and it sounds very similar to the plot of this book.

  19. Rio says:

    The two girls were writing a picture book for a state writing contest. Jessica had an elaborate dollhouse and a collection of mice wearing medieval garb, so they decided to base the story on those. Tracy (Jessica’s best friend, sort of) and Michelle (Tracy’s friend, resident bitch) caught them one day when they took the mice outside so Daphne could sketch them for a scene on the creek.

  20. WIllowtreeling says:

    So, WTHC has been reissued with new cover art, marketed more towards sixth and seventh graders, rather than the fourth and fifth graders that it seemed to be aimed for before…maybe the reading levels have gone down? At any rate, the cover is stylish and spooky and Scholastic was selling it…several of my students have read it:)

  21. Emily says:

    I LOVED Daphne’s Book when I was a kid! I always thought of it as one of those books I randomly stumbled across but that no one else knew – I’m glad to see others remember it fondly also.

  22. wow says:

    Absolutely loved Mary Downing Hahn and I don’t remember ANY of my friends knowing who she is or reading her books either! I remember writing a 4th grade book report on “Wait Till Helen Comes” and always listing that as my favorite book growing up. I would search for her first at the book store and library and I swear I ALWAYS had trouble finding her books. Imagine having the internet like the kids now!! I’d have read them all!!

  23. Jemgirl83 says:

    OMG!! I loved me some Mary Downing Hahn back in the day. Wait till Helen comes, The Jellyfish Season, Daphne’s Book, I read them all at least a million times. I am gonna have to hunt for all my old copies of these books. Reading authors like this kept me from being completely warped by all the sweet valley books I used to read.

  24. Wish says:

    Ah, that’s what it was called! Wait Till Helen Comes is one of those books I read as a kid that really stuck with me, but I could never remember the title. I really need to have some sort of retro reading weekend.

  25. redb says:

    So thanks to all of you I picked up a couple of MDH’s books and am enjoying them. One question though, are all the parents in her books such asshats? Because, wow.

  26. Lorrie says:

    I saw the name “Mary Downing Hahn” and immediately remembered, “She wrote ‘Wait Till Helen Comes’!” That book scared the crap out of me as a kid.

  27. Ali says:

    The book i read was deep and dark and dangerous, it was FANTASTIC!! IT GAVE SO MUCH MEANING, AND WAS SOO UNDERSTANDABLE, I WOULD LOVE TO READ MORE WHEN I GET THE CHANCE(((:

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