Review of The Ghosts of Rose Hill

The Ghosts of Rose Hill The Ghosts of Rose Hill
by R. M. Romero
High School    Peachtree Teen    384 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-68263-338-0    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68263-446-2    $11.99

In this verse novel, Cuban American Jewish teen Ilana Lopez spends a summer with her aunt in Prague. She finds an abandoned Jewish cemetery and, while cleaning it up, encounters Benjamin, the ghost of a long-dead boy her age; and Wassermann, a man with no shadow. Accustomed to hearing stories from her family’s past (“I’m Jewish— / we’re good at remembering”), Ilana is unbothered by Benjamin’s ghostly state, and a romance blooms between them. But something sinister is at play: Wassermann is a vodník, a folkloric river spirit who consumes souls, and it will ultimately be up to Ilana to defeat him. The straightforward free-verse poetry is infused with Ilana’s embrace of her background (most explicitly her Jewish background) and her ­awareness of her people’s transient, precarious history (does her heritage “mean / moving across borders / like water / moves across stones / Or does it mean knowing / the ­Wassermanns of the world / are always one step / behind you?”). Creepy though the premise is, the thought-provoking novel is more fable than horror, as its protagonist finds a balance between past and present.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees.

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