The Hungry Ghost

Freja’s arrival from Denmark to stay with her father and his new family in Singapore coincides with the month that the ‘hungry ghosts’ of ancestors wander and are ritually appeased by the living. The spirited Freja, admirably prepared for ‘survival situations,’ encounters the ghost of a forgotten girl whom she tries to help, despite knowing nothing of the custom and having no guide to either the country or the culture.

A summary of the plot does no justice to the well-developed atmosphere of both place and feeling. Freja is a complex character, fearless and uncertain, self-sufficient and seeking friendship. Both worlds, of the living and of the dead, have many types of disruption, haunting, and searching for ‘home,’ as either a place or an answer.

The use of myth and folklore is clever and vividly presented, but it is also the book’s one weakness. The potential for ‘hungry ghosts’ and mythological characters as actors in the plot is very rich, but is insufficiently explored, more attention being given instead to familiar themes of personal ghosts. The adventure itself, though, is tightly plotted and well-paced. Good use is made of the contrasts between the settings – Singapore as a bright, controlled place where Freja can be kept safe, the ghosts’ world as cluttered, confusing, dangerous, and as soaked in ancient beliefs as Freja and her new friends are in rain and mud. An engaging and rewarding read, with a glossary of Singlish, and a Morse code alphabet, provided. 10-12, 12-14