Mary Downing Hahn

Wait Till Helen Comes

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Wait Till Helen Comes Summary

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Wait Till Helen Comes is a horror fantasy novel for young adults by best-selling children’s novelist Mary Downing Hahn. The book follows twelve-year-old Molly and her younger brother, Michael, after they move into an old renovated church with their mother Jean’s new husband, Dave. Their new stepsister, Heather, is disturbed after losing her mother and nearly dying herself in a fire four years before. When Heather starts speaking to the ghost of another little girl who died in a fatal fire, Molly attempts to save Heather before she can become another victim of their haunted house.

The story opens when Molly, Michael, and their mother Jean, a working artist, move into their new stepfather, Dave’s home. Dave lives in a renovated country church that has been remodeled into a family home, which would be frightening enough without the graveyard and ruins of a burnt building looming outside. Molly is immediately disturbed by her new stepsister, Heather, a seven-year-old who is unhappy with her father’s remarriage and the presence of new children in the house.

Initially, Heather’s behavior is typical of a child unhappy with the behavior of her parents. She lies, manipulating Jean and Dave into believing that Molly and Michael have done something they shouldn’t have, getting them into trouble. As the oldest, Molly is often given the task of watching Heather, but the girl has a penchant for disappearing, leaving Molly to spend many of her babysitting days searching the extensive church grounds hunting for Heather.

The conflict begins when Heather goes missing one day, and Molly finds her talking to what she assumes is an imaginary friend. Molly asks Heather to whom she is talking. She responds that she is talking to Helen, another young girl who, she claims, can make Molly and Michael pay for the way they treat her. When Molly tells her mother and Dave about Helen, they write her off as just a figment of Heather’s vivid imagination or the product of her unhappiness about the new marriage. Nevertheless, Molly is skeptical – she feels a tangible presence when Heather claims that Helen is in the room, and begins to wonder if Heather might be talking to a ghost.

Strange things begin happening in the house. Heather seems to have a death wish, and Molly soon realizes that Heather has been possessed by the ghost of Helen, a little girl from the graveyard outside the house who died in a fire in 1880. Helen keeps leading Heather toward a pond on the property where two other children have died, and Molly begins to fear for Heather’s safety. Molly knows that Heather’s mother died in a fire that nearly killed Heather as well, but knows few other details about the incident. However, Molly soon learns Heather’s dark secret – she set the fire that killed her mother, and still feels guilty about causing the death of her beloved parent.

In order to save Heather, Molly knows that she has to get her to confess to her guilt and the role she played in her mother’s death. She finally convinces Heather to tell Dave, and the incidents at the pond stop – Heather is absolved of her guilt and becomes healthy again. Finally, Molly discovers a cure for Helen as well. As it turns out, Helen was also killed in a fire that she set. The fire killed her whole family. When Helen’s mother appears from the afterlife and forgives Helen for her actions, the house is freed of its ghostly neighbors.

Along the way, the characters have some truly haunting experiences, including coming home to find that all of their belongings, with the exception of items owned by Heather and Dave, have been destroyed. However, a proper burial for both Helen and the remains of her parents brings peace to the country home, allowing the joined family to bond.

Mary Downing Hahn, a former school librarian, is the author of more than twenty novels for children and young adults. Born in 1937 in Maryland, she has been writing books since 1979. She has won more than twenty state awards for her novels, which are popular among middle grade and young adult readers. Some of her most popular novels include Stepping on the Cracks, Wait Till Helen Comes, The Old Willis Place, and Closed for the Season. Her most recent novel, published in 2017, is called One for the Sorrow.