Book Review: What the Dead Want

What The Dead Want 
By: Norah Olson
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Page Count: 320
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Paranormal

Gretchen has been living in New York City her whole life, but she dreams of rural New York and the ancestral home her family has owned for generations. Her mother grew up there, but moved away as a small child. Gretchen's mother has made her living by researching spirit photography and running a gallery that specializes in gothic art. Life was good for Gretchen until her mother disappeared. She can't reconcile that her mother left the family on purpose, but thinking of her mother dead also doesn't sit well with Gretchen. She throws herself into trying to find any trace of her mom while her father flocks to distance locales to provide his medical skills to poor areas.

Everything begins to change when Gretchen's great aunt, Esther, contacts her about inheriting the Axton mansion. Another routine summer in the city pales in comparison to exploring her mother's childhood home, so Gretchen packs up and heads off to upstate New York. She arrives to find the house in a derelict state and her aunt's mental stability fading. Her first evening at the house is confusing, terrifying, and tragic. Gretchen soon learns that she has inherited a lot more than a crumbling mansion. It is now her responsibility to put to rest old ghosts and solve a family mystery.

Gretchen finds allies in the Green siblings - Hawk and Hope. The trio communicates with ghosts, delves into old archives, and seeks to find answers before the anniversary of a tragedy brings more death to the town.

The novel goes back and forth between past and present as the mystery unfolds. Letters, diary entries, and photographs from the 1860's provide clues to help the trio in their quest. Due to the time period, racial conflict plays a prominent role in the story. These segments were heartbreaking and difficult to read. Sadly, they were all too historically accurate. It also saddens me to think that we haven't made nearly enough progress in race equality in the modern era.

I don't want to speak about the paranormal aspect too much as it would provide spoilers, but I did find it intriguing and chilling. Olson does an amazing job of describing the paranormal elements. I certainly had trouble reading this one at night without my imagination running away from me.

My biggest complaint with this novel was the pacing. The premise was appealing and the overall story is promising, but the execution fell flat for me. Everything seemed to be happening on fast forward which left me with questions. I didn't feel like I got all my answers or was able to settle into the story before being pulled into a different direction. It all happens so quickly that making connections with the characters was impossible for me. I didn't dislike Gretchen, Hope, and Hawk, but I don't feel that I truly got to know them either. I also felt like the ending came together a little too easily. 

One Last Gripe: I felt the contemporary components were not as strong as the historical ones at times.

Favorite Thing About This Book: the historical aspects

First Sentence: Her mother had said the house was built by ancestors.

Favorite Character: Hope

Least Favorite Character: The murderer

16 -year-old Gretchen takes photographs to understand the world around her, a passion her mother Mona fostered and encouraged when she was still around. Since her mom disappeared years ago, Gretchen and her dad have lived on their own in New York City, haunted by Mona’s absence.

When Gretchen’s great aunt Esther calls unexpectedly to tell her that she has inherited the pre-Civil War mansion on her mother’s side of the family in upstate New York, Gretchen understands nothing except that her aunt needs her help. But what she finds there is beyond her imagination. The house is crumbling apart, filled with stacks of papers and journals from decades, even centuries past, and it’s crawling with rodents. It’s also full of secrets and a legacy of racism and violence so reprehensible that the ghosts of the past are exacting revenge on the living.

Somehow the mystery of Mona’s disappearance and the atrocities that happened on the land during the Civil War are inextricably intertwined, and it’s up to Gretchen to figure out how…before even more lives are lost.


  1. Looks and sounds eerie. Too bad it fell flat for you and you couldn't connect with the characters. But I do like historical elements and the mysterious appeal. Thanks for your honest review.


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