Out of the Wild Night
Author: Blue Balliett
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2018
Source: Personal Purchase
During one windless month of November, on the island of Nantucket, ghosts will walk. Our narrator, a ghost named Mary W. Chase, has awakened just as her former home is about to be renovated. Mary W. Chase knows this is a bad thing. When her house is stripped, all of its past will be torn away and she will disappear once and for all. To prevent this happening, she has become the Town Crier, a role which in life she would have been too timid to assume.
The house is currently the property of an elderly woman, Mrs. Eliza Remimbas. She has no family and has been coaxed by the crooked Eely Eddy Nold to sell. Despite his assurances to the contrary, he plans to modernize the house completely. Mary must stop him, but she doesn’t have to do it alone. A gang of children are there to help. “Children can easily absorb what they don’t understand, which makes them the best spies” (28). Mary feels certain that together they can accomplish what is necessary.
As the group of children form their Gang, the goal becomes the preservation of the historic houses of Nantucket (and the ghosts into the bargain). There is Gabriel Pinkham, son of Officer Pinkham. He’s the member who can see ghosts. Phoebe Folger Antoine, called Phee, is often teased by her grandfather. He calls her Fee-Fi-Fo Phee, for she has a giant-sized amount of determination. The Coffin children – Paul, Cyrus, and Maddie – live next to the graveyard, as do the Ramos twins, Markus and Maria. With the help of a few adults, most especially Phee’s pirate-like grandfather, Sal, and Mary, these kids will take on Eely Eddy and his demolition crew.
As the Gang’s work gets underway, they – and Mary – begin to realize that there is more at work here than even she realizes. Something deeper and darker is going on. Although these unknown entities are helping with the cause, the tactics are becoming different: more aggressive, violent.
Toward the end of the book, I felt that Balliett was hammering a bit hard on the “renovation is bad” theme. We get it. Renovation will exorcise a ghost. Be warned: there are surprises (and hints) lurking that will change your mind about that! At the end I felt as I did when I read Kipling’s story “The Gardener.” I got to the end and asked myself, “What just happened here?” and went back to reread the story. I had the same reaction to Out of the Wild Night.
I like that Balliett managed to get in a good deal of the island’s history sandwiched into the layers of the story. Instead of being boring, the facts were tucked in like pickles – and are just enough to give the whole story/sandwich a nice little extra tang.
This wonderful ghost story is “both shivery and cozy” (94). Young readers will find the mysterious happenings intriguing and as Balliett herself points out, “Children and Ghosts. (go together) Like cinnamon with sugar” (64).