Guest Post: A Book That Scares Kiersten White

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Kiersten White, author of SUPERNATURALLY

The other day I was in a bookstore when I found a copy of a book. THE book. The book I read once a year as a little girl because it scared me so much I could only handle it once every twelve months, but it scared me so deliciously well I had to read it at least that often. Wait Till Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn.

It has a new cover—for some reason the mullet the little girl is sporting was cut. I love that mullet! It represented pure terror. And not just from a fashion standpoint.

Although this was the first book that came to mind when I thought of books that scared me, I can barely remember what it was about. There were step-siblings, and an old house. Writing on a wall, mysteriously trashed rooms, a lonely ghost. A final scene in a pond with weeds clinging to feet, trying to drag children down to a watery grave.

I want to read that book again, but the truth is, I’m scared to.

I mean, I’m not scared it’ll scare me. I’m scared it won’t. So few things do these days. I’ve dissected and dismantled and studied story so much that I can trace the paths any given book might take before they are taken. I’m not always right, but I usually am. For me reading is, unfortunately, a rather clinical experience except in very rare cases.

Ghost stories can only happen so many ways, after all. Come to think of it, an old manuscript of mine that happens to be a ghost story has all of the same elements I mentioned earlier, switching out step-siblings for long-lost-relatives, and an inlet for a pond. Maybe I hadn’t forgotten this book very much, after all.

Or maybe it’s simply the archetype for a scary story in my head.

That’s what I want it to be. I want it to be the story that scared the living daylights out of pre-teen me. I want it to be a perfectly crafted, sleep-with-the-lights-on, can’t-bear-to-read-it-but-can’t-help-myself sort of book. Honestly, I don’t think it’d live up to what it became in my subconscious. But that’s the true mark of a ghost story. It isn’t the sum of its parts. It isn’t what you read when you read it, or what happened to you that night you lived one. It’s what came after, in the telling, in the remembering. It grows beyond the actual experience, seeping past the facts, raising the hairs on the back of your neck, burrowing down into the deepest parts of you, the parts that you can’t turn the lights on, the parts where fear grows and feeds and stays.

So I won’t be reading that book again. I don’t have to. Because I remember just how much it scared me, and how much I loved being scared. I remember how I felt, and remembering is the best—and scariest—part of any story.

Kiersten isn’t the only one who’s scared by Wait Till Helen Comes! Check out what editor Martha Mihalick said about the book in her guest blog.

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of PARANORMALCY, a YALSA Teen Top Ten book, a Utah Book Award winner, and, as her son describes it, a rectangle. SUPERNATURALLY, the second book in the trilogy, is out now, with ENDLESSLY to follow next summer. MIND GAMES and FLOOD AND STONE, two new books, will be out in 2013. And, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Kiersten is exceptionally fond of sleeping.

Visit Kiersten at  

Follow @kierstenwhite on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away:

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.

20 responses to “Guest Post: A Book That Scares Kiersten White”

  1. I had a parent yell at me after I gave her kid that book. She said he was up half the night reading under the covers, and up the rest of the night hiding in the bathroom with all the lights on. As she finishes yelling at me in the middle of my store, the son comes up and asks for more books by that author because he loved it. 😀



  2. I agree with Kiersten that I wouldn’t want to re-read the children’s books that scared me as a kid for fear they wouldn’t scare me now. I would just like to keep my memories intact. One of the books that scared me as a kid is I Know what you did last Summer by Lois Duncan, later made into a movie.

    I haven’t read Wait Till Helen Comes but it looks like something I would have read. Love the mullet 🙂


  3. The book that scared me most as a kid was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Specifically the story about a farmer whose scarecrow comes alive, murders him, skins him, then stakes the skin to the roof to dry like tanning a cow hide. I had nightmares for several years because of that book. But maybe I was just overreacting . . . *shudders*


  4. I actually remember the story about the farmer and the scarecrow! I think I heard it on a book on tape. We used to listen to them over long car trips (we drove fourteen hours to Florida because my dad refused to take a plane).

    The first book I remember scaring me was one of the Wyrd Museum books. I was so scared I wouldn’t turn off my lamp after I was done reading. 🙂 I looked up the series to remember what it was called and found out they’re republishing them right now. I’m kind of tempted to try rereading them, but worried they won’t be as good as I remember. I’d hate to ruin my nostalgia…


  5. i’ve never read this one but it looks totally 80s and is probably something i would have read back then. i may have to check it out.


  6. I can completely relate. There are just some childhood favorites that you don’t want to ever read again because you’re afraid you’ll ruin the perfect memory you have. Those books that were so good when you were young might just not live up to your expectations anymore.


  7. My favorite books as a child weren’t spooky ones. I do have new copies of them, but I refuse to read them again for similar reasons.


  8. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that not one but two people are talking about how much they loved something I also loved. Hahn wrote a bunch of stuff that hugely influenced my formative years.


  9. I find it amusing you and Martha were both freaked by this one. I don’t remember it scaring me too much when I read it years ago, but I like that you won’t reread it because you don’t want that perfection to go away. ❤


  10. When I was a kid I watched The Legend of Hell House (the original one)–scared the CRAP out of me! Saw the remake and wondered why it wasn’t so scary…was the original only scary because I was so young and impressionable? Or was the original so scary because movies hadn’t developed all the fancy production? I can still see the girl holding a hand that wasn’t there and the look on her face when she realized she’d been holding something, but WHAT? MAN, that was scary!


  11. I love the cover. I recently tried to read a book I loved as a kid (Summer of the Monkeys) and I couldn’t get into it, because it wasn’t what i remembered it to be.


  12. I definitely have one book that I read where a scene in it will forever haunt me. I don’t do well with teeth falling out and in the girl did that super fast dying thing like in Indiana Jones and the quest for the holy grail but her teeth all fell out one by one. So terrifying to me.


  13. Ok this might be sad – but when I was younger I devoured Fear Street books. And part of me wants to read one of them again to remember what I found so frightening about them – but the other part is nervous that I’ll realize I was stupid for being so scared and I’ll lose the significance of that whole part of my reading history.


  14. Mary Downing Hahn writes some of the BEST ghost stories! I also really liked Time for Andrew, which has a cool time travel component. The best thing about her books is that they work for such a wide range of ages–tremendously scary but not too adult, nor too babyish.


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