Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts

Holiday House. Sept. 2020. 240p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780823446971.
Gr 4-7–Thirteen-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt and her 14-year-old cousin Alice could not be more different. Eleanor is practical and meek, while Alice is reckless and brash. And in this alternate version of 1898 New York City, ghosts are definitely real, and hauntings are an accepted part of life. When a haunting “erupts” in the home of the girls’ beloved Aunt Bye, they resolve to overcome their differences and team up to investigate and hopefully eradicate the ghost. Their sleuthing leads to a shocking discovery that forces them to confront family ghosts, both literally and figuratively. The Roosevelt family is known for its many celebrated, larger-than-life personalities, and it is refreshing that Salerni centers these charismatic female characters. But the plot hinges on the alteration of the true circumstances of the deaths of Theodore Roosevelt’s mother and first wife, a tragedy that is somewhat cheapened when retold as a ghost story. Nevertheless, the supernatural phenomena associated with the haunting are chilling, and the protagonists’ plucky bravery is undeniable. Fans of presidential history will likely appreciate the novel’s hint at a budding romance between Eleanor and Franklin, but true history buffs may be dismayed by Salerni’s deviation from the truth.
VERDICT A unique premise that doesn’t quite live up to its potential, though it may appeal to ardent fans of historical fiction and ghost stories.

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