I believe I read this around 2018-2020. The most primary character is a young girl (1st to 8th grade) whose family (her, her mother and her father) is moving into an old mansion. Her father's job is restoring antique homes, and they're allowed to live there while he's restoring the place. The girl is tired of moving constantly, and begs her parents to settle down. While playing outside, the girl finds a midden, which contains several broken dolls, I think a porcelain doll and several small wooden dolls without many features. She plays with them, and I think has a vivid daydream about playing outside, only after which she realizes that the details aren't right. Meanwhile, a figure watches her from an upstairs window, and thinks about how the dolls don't look right, too broken.

The girl has more daydreams where she realizes she's dreaming about someone else's life, probably some one from the distant past. She also befriends a girl in her class over their shared love for the Chrestomanci series of books, and they wind up having a sleepover where they sneak into the part of the house being renovated, and find an upstairs room that's locked. Somehow, they find a way in (maybe a key from the midden) and they find a stack of paintings from the former resident, a semi-famous local artist, a series of drawings done in a more childish hands, and the ghost, who I think is hiding in a closet. They elicit the details of the girl's death, which boil down to a set of hired hands trying to rob the family, the girl being locked in the room and told to not speak no matter what she heard, and the girl dying of starvation because she didn't speak to the rescuers when they showed up.

The girls posit, based on the Chrestomanci books, that there are multiple parallel worlds, and plan that the next time the protagonist had one of her vivid dreams, she'd change the narrative. Long story short, she does, convincing one of the more reluctant robbers (I think a female cook, who was married to one of the other robbers, who sometimes got drunk and beat her) to leave and fetch the police.

I want to say that it doesn't seem to work at first, with the history books still describing the mysterious disappearance of the artist and his family one night, but when the workers enter the previously locked room, they find the paintings, but not the expected body in the closet, and the girls have one last vision of the artist's family, happy at the edge of the woods, having a picnic. The implication might have been that the girls couldn't truly change the past, but their efforts might have removed the artist and his family from our world into another parallel world where they survived.

Other little details I recall was that the ghost girl frequently heard the hoofbeats of "dark riders" that she hid from, implied to be echoes of memory of the robbers, that she had difficulty in comprehending the second girl being a girl due to a more male name, and always running around in pants instead of a dress, and that the night of the sleepover, the girls shared ice cream with the parents, with a note being made, as they snuck over to the part of the house being renovated, that the bowls hadn't been washed yet, but had been rinsed out in the sink. In the climactic vision during the robbery, the protagonist realizes that she can't do anything physical in the scene, but that the girl who became a ghost could vaguely see and hear her, as if she was a ghost. Lastly, I think it was implied that the protagonist and the ghost girl were connected by their desire to be able to leave the house being foiled by the artistic occupation of their father.

The book seemed like it might have been YA. It was fairly short, without a terribly complex plot, and while there were some serious plot points about robbery, murder, and abuse, the girls never seemed to feel in peril.

1 Answer 1


I believe this is The Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story (2018) by Mary Downing Hahn.

Ghost story master Mary Downing Hahn unrolls the suspenseful, spine-chilling yarn of a girl imprisoned for more than a century, the terrifying events that put her there, and a friendship that crosses the boundary between past and present.

A family moves into an old, abandoned house. Jules's parents love the house, but Jules is frightened and feels a sense of foreboding. When she sees a pale face in an upstairs window, though, she can't stop wondering about the eerie presence on the top floor—in a room with a locked door. Could it be someone who lived in the house a century earlier?

Her fear replaced by fascination, Jules is determined to make contact with the mysterious figure and help unlock the door. Past and present intersect as she and her ghostly friend discover—and change—the fate of the family who lived in the house all those many years ago.

Going by this preview, alternate worlds are certainly mentioned in this story, as are the Chrestomanci books.

I thought of the Chrestomanci books and the Almost Anywheres. What if alternate worlds really existed? Maisie’s father said they might. Suppose there was a world where the robbers don’t kill the Bennetts, a world where Lily grows up and lives a happy life. Suppose Maisie and I discovered a way to send Lily to that world?

  • 1
    Ah! That does match my reading history. Thank you.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Sep 11, 2021 at 14:11

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