Super Max the Mighty Invincible can see a haunted house from her bedroom window.
Thornwood Manor is one hundred and twenty-five years old, and it’s excellently creepy. It’s the most famous pile of creaky boards in Tennessee, if you don’t count Graceland, and counting Graceland in any comparison is pointless, since Elvis is still so famous he’s like the big giant gyrating dead ambassador to the universe.
Elvis has his songs, and Thornwood has its rhyme, penned by a local poet. It isn’t a very good rhyme, but like the haunted house, it’s spooky enough to raise a few eyebrows.
In years long past, dark and old,
Thornwood’s heart beat small and cold.
A penny earned was a penny pinched.
With relentless greed, his fate he cinched.
In the deep of night came evil served,
A thirsty poison, well-deserved,
And to his grave went Thornwood unrepentant,
Vowing to punish his town and descendants.
When December’s chill comes to kill the year
Blue Creek will remember fear,
Of wrongs imagined, he swore to avenge,
Come the day of Thornwood’s Revenge.
Historians agree that Hargrove Thornwood began as a brilliant banker and businessman, controlling and a bit cruel, but not unusual for the time he lived. He came to Blue Creek and charmed the locals by employing nearly every soul in residence to build the Town Square.
Then came the great Panic of 1893, which wiped out the savings of so many of Blue Creek’s wealthier residents and threatened to ruin the town. The Panic decimated Thornwood’s bank and left him with little money, save for the funds to keep his local property and his personal comfort. Economists have written papers on how Thornwood could have sold some of his belongings or his fine mansion—how he could have parlayed his remaining assets into employment for his neighbors and rebuilt his fortune through the success of Blue Creek’s recovering businesses.
But he wouldn’t turn loose of a single acre, dollar, or piece of silver.
Hargrove Thornwood chose a path of avarice, and greed often becomes its own form of madness.
He began to imagine that his family and the citizens of Blue Creek were responsible for his financial losses, instead of his own poor planning and the national financial woes of 1893. He started to believe his relatives and neighbors had to be cheating him and lying to him. He called in loans, demanded brutal hours from his employees, and destroyed what was left of the town’s economy—but he still didn’t recover enough of his fortune to suit him.
That’s when Thornwood took to terrorizing the streets with midnight carriage rides. People wrote about how his ancestral crest, a murderous-looking owl flying with a thorny branch clenched in its talons, seemed to glare down on them as his buggy careened around Town Square, seeking victims for him to accuse of treachery and theft. Nobody wanted to go near his mansion’s front entrance, where carved owls fixed their beady gazes on anyone who dared to darken the stoop.
Finally, his son and oldest daughter ran away from him and disavowed their heritage. Most biographers note that their desertion drove Hargrove Thornwood to new depths of malice. He ranted that his belongings were disappearing, and that his staff were somehow poisoning
his food and drink. He stopped going into town, and he kept his wife and youngest daughter under lock and key, hoarding his dollars and denying them food and clothing unless he approved it and inspected it. When the little girl somehow escaped to go live with her brother and sister, Thornwood took to his bed, and his wife’s health soon declined as well.
As the old miser lay dying, he swore that his spirit would survive the grave. He raved that he would make sure no one enjoyed the home or comforts that had been his, and that all of his descendants would suffer the same financial ruin he had endured. As Christmas approached, he thrashed in his bed, screaming that one day, in the frozen hours of December, he would return to destroy the town of Blue Creek and whatever was left of his lineage once and for all, finally and forever.
These deathbed rantings turned out to be prophetic. After he died, Thornwood Manor was rumored to be haunted, and the house seemed to torment and eject all occupants. Thornwood’s progeny didn’t have much success in love or business. But worse, much worse, was Thornwood’s promise of revenge on the town that suffered his abuse. Long after Thornwood shuffled off this mortal coil, people in Blue Creek believed his threats to return and make them even more miserable.
Living in terror of the deranged banker’s vengeance, townspeople refused to tend the mansion’s grounds, fearful that Thornwood had left deadly traps or poisons hidden in the dirt. Every time some minor disaster hit, Blue Creek blamed the unforgiving ghost of Hargrove
Thornwood. Yet, as years passed, nothing really dire happened. Time moved on. People grew older and spoke less of what used to be.
Eventually, Thornwood’s declaration of doom for Blue Creek became superstition and legend. The problem is, legends don’t fade or disappear. Just ask poor Elvis, wherever he might be, because he knows the truth.
Legends never, ever die.
Not the good ones, like the King. And definitely not the bad, horrible, awful ones, like Hargrove Thornwood.
They linger, and they wait, and sooner or later, they find their way home.
Vaught (Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry) creates a close, strong relationship between granddaughter and grandfather; Toppy seeks to protect Max, but he also acknowledges her need to push boundaries and the fact that her wheelchair is an extension of her body and hers to control. Impulsive, quick to anger, loyal, and self-aware, Max is a memorable character who refuses to give in to circumstances or assumptions. (Publisher’s Weekly)
Stubborn and clever without being superhuman, Max is a refreshing heroine. . . (Kirkus)
Max loves superheroes, electronics, and messing with the control panels on her wheelchair to gain more speed and power, but her quick temper has her grounded more often than not. . . . Readers will identify with feisty Max and her can’t-hold-me-down spirit. . . . Satisfying. (School Library Connection)
The mystery is well paced with a good balance of action and character development. Though the genre of middle grade mysteries is crowded, this stands out for its authentic and empowering depiction of a young wheelchair user. Vaught captures the voice of someone who has spent a good deal of time in a wheelchair and gets the details right. Max is relatable and likeable, and the combination of a spooky old house and a modern cyber mystery will keep readers turning the pages. VERDICT An excellent addition to middle grade shelves, with a differently-abled main character that readers will root for. (School Library Journal August 2017)
Vaught makes Max the brash, bold star of the book, exchanging stereotypes and sympathy cards for a well-drawn character whose disability is part of who she is but not her complete identity; hopefully Max will roll ahead as the advance guard of a literary cadre. (BCCB)