Mary Downing Hahn

All The Lovely Bad Ones

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All The Lovely Bad Ones Summary

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All The Lovely Bad Ones is a 2008 children’s book by Mary Downing Hahn. It’s about two mischievous youngsters sent to their grandmother’s inn for the summer. When they decide to play a ghostly prank on the inn’s guests, they accidentally summon a real haunting. The book’s title is taken from the poem “Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley, which the author inscribed to all children—including “all the lovely bad ones.” Hahn has written dozens of children’s books, often involving ghosts or other supernatural occurrences, including Wait Till Helen Comes and The Doll in the Garden.

The story is narrated in the first person by Travis, a school-aged boy of about 13 years old. He and his older sister, Corey, are about to spend the summer at their grandmother’s inn in Vermont. Grandma is glad to have them, but she doesn’t know the truth: they’re with her for vacation because they’re no longer welcome at their usual summer camp. Travis and Corey are pranksters, and last summer was the last straw for their counselors. They started food fights, made up questionable new lyrics to camp songs, skipped out on nightly campfires, let the air out of a counselor’s bike, and purposely tipped over a canoe.

Grandma tells them all about the Fox Hill Inn, and mentions some local lore: the inn is supposed to be haunted. Grandma herself is a skeptic, and doesn’t concern herself with ghost stories. Besides, she’s never seen anything during her years of running the place. But believers have written up the place: there’s an article on the Fox Hill Inn in Haunted Inns of Vermont.

It doesn’t take long for Travis and Corey to notice that business isn’t going well for their grandmother. There just aren’t enough guests. After they overhear a few guests talking about how they want to see the ghosts that supposedly haunt the inn, brother and sister hatch a scheme. They’ll dress up as ghosts and “haunt” the inn outside the Jennings’s window. It’ll be their greatest prank yet. And maybe it will help their grandmother, too.

That night, Corey puts on a white nightgown and spooky face paint. They head to an eerie grove of trees outside the inn, where they wail and shriek at 3 in the morning. The next day, the guests are talking about the “haunting” they experienced. Soon, business is booming. Psychics and paranormal researchers are even stopping by to investigate.

Corey and Travis end up heading to the library to find out more about the supposed ghosts of Fox Hill Inn. While they’re searching, a brochure falls out of the stacks, and it turns out to be just what they’re looking for: a history of the inn. They find out it was once a “poor farm,” a place where destitute children were sent. The place was run by a woman named Miss Ava and her brother. They weren’t kind caretakers for the children sent to them. They mercilessly beat and starved their young charges, and many children died under their care. Though the state gave Miss Ava money to care for the children, she and her brother spent it on themselves and let the children go without. Later, Miss Ava’s brother left and she hanged herself in the grove of trees.

Soon, strange things begin happening at the inn, things that Corey and Travis have nothing to do with. Tracy, the inn’s waitress, goes into the grove of trees trying to see the ghost for herself, but she comes back crying and saying she sensed an evil presence. And Travis senses something watching him.

Later, Corey complains to Travis about the way he messed up her room and threw her clothes out the window. Travis doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Then, as they watch, Corey’s bed starts rocking and her clothes fly out of the closet doors. Unseen voices laugh and call themselves “the lovely bad ones.”

Frightened, the children talk to a new guest and ghost hunter, Eleanor Chester. They explain that the haunting was just a joke, but that now strange things are happening to them. She tells them their antics have somehow woken up the real ghosts of Fox Hill Inn. And they’ll have to find a way of putting the “lovely bad ones” back to sleep.

Travis wants to run away, leaving the inn and its problems behind them. But Corey insists that they stay and finish what they’ve started. The “lovely bad ones” begin to appear to them in solid form. They are children who once stayed at the poor farm and were mistreated. These children, Caleb, Seth, and Ira, tell Corey and Travis about the cruelties Miss Ava and her brother subjected them to. And when they died after her treatment, she buried them under headstones marked only with numbers, not their names. They’ll go back to rest if the siblings can find Miss Ava’s ledger and give all the “bad ones” headstones with their names on them, so they can be remembered. They also have a warning for Corey and Travis: they’ve woken up Miss Ava with their “tomfoolery.” And Miss Ava isn’t nice at all.

Grandma is frustrated with the talk of paranormal activity, and ends up kicking the psychics out of her inn. She blames Travis and Corey for all the strange happenings, and doesn’t believe their explanations. The two are saved when the “bad ones” materialize for Grandma and show her that they are real.

Travis and Corey search Miss Ava’s old room for the ledger, but they don’t find anything helpful. But they do discover they’ve woken up Miss Ava, as the bad ones warned them. They encounter her ghost in the grove of trees, still hanging from the noose. Her spirit begins to compel Travis to hang himself as she did, telling him he is unlovable and no one will care if he dies. Her will is strong, and she nearly succeeds—but an attempted exorcism thwarts her.

The exorcism causes a new spirit to appear: Miss Ava’s brother. She tries to go to him, but suddenly he shapeshifts. He isn’t Miss Ava’s brother after all, but the devil. He catches her and tells her she’ll be coming with him for her crimes. He takes her down to Hell, and she is gone forever.

The bad ones tell Travis and Corey that they saw Miss Ava’s brother come back once, after he had left her, and that he must have buried the ledger with her. With that information, they and Grandma are able to recover the ledger from her grave, listing the names of each “bad one” and the date they died on. They give the ledger to the historical society, where they discover one of the employee’s is a descendant of Caleb’s brother, and is glad to discover what became of her distant relative.

Finally, Grandma is able to buy a memorial headstone listing every name and date, so all the children who died at the poor farm can be remembered. The “bad ones” are able to rest in peace.

All the Lovely Bad Ones received mixed reviews for a plot that was authentically spooky, but predictable and not always as compelling as Hahn’s other supernatural tales. The book won an Oklahoma Sequoyah Award for Children and the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award.