Haunting the Night by Mara Purnhagen

I read this novella early in the year, but never got around to reviewing it. Mara Purnhagen’s skill shows in the fact that, when looking for something to review for today, I opened it up, read a synopsis that has nothing to do with the story I read–this is an interlude in an existing YA series–and the key elements of this story came pouring back.

Charlotte Silver is torn between two worlds, that of the unseen, and high school. She’s a survivor of a recent attack and a current sufferer of peer pressure from her best friend to go to her senior prom. Before the attack, she’d been all charged up to go, but now her prom dress is bloodstained, her nerves are shot, and there’s a mysterious shadow stalking her.

Purnhagen does a good job of giving the drop-in reader enough background to accept what’s going on, such as that her parents are famous ghost hunters, and she’s gotten a glimpse of that world so knows it’s for real. Little details like the healing scars on Charlotte’s hands give an opening into the bigger issues plaguing her. She blames herself for the attack that put her parents in the hospital and resulted in a young man’s death.

That’s all you need of her history to be sucked into a story that both she, and the reader, believe they understand. But don’t be too quick in those assumptions. Purnhagen offers both a twist that is well grounded but unexpected, and brings Charlotte back to the person who had longed for a pretty dress and a dance with her boyfriend Mills.

That’s closer to a spoiler than I usually give, but I wanted to offer a nod toward the skill that this closure demonstrates, and it’s unlikely that that much will give you anything beyond the curiosity I hope to inspire. This novella stands alone in two aspects: First, it contains enough reference to the backstory to ground the reader in Charlotte’s world, and second, it is self-containing. The conflict is related to what happened in the previous book, but only so far as being attacked, having your parents injured, and having someone die can affect a person. Even more, the resolution is such that it doesn’t interfere with the bigger timeline of the series, and yet offers character growth.

Heck, if the story doesn’t interest you, the writers among my readers might do well to read this novella for the craft lessons it offers. And if you do, I’d be surprised if you don’t find something to enjoy along the way.

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