A beautiful fantasy book for both children and adults, The Hungry Ghost is a story of family, friendship, love and death, but overall (for me) of memory.
The Plot in a Nutshell
Freja has come to stay with her father for a year while her mother “gets well” in her home country of Denmark. Her father, who lives in Singapore, has a new wife and they have toddler twins. Freja knows her mother needs the space and time to heal, and she’s looking forward to spending time with her fun-loving dad. But the reality is very different – her dad works a lot and Freja is left at home with her well-meaning step mother Clementine, their maid Maya and the twins.
Freja is a keen explorer and a scout. She loves the wilderness and survival skills. While out exploring Freja comes across a graveyard (Bukit Brown) and meets Ling, a ghost who doesn’t remember who she is. During this time, the hungry ghost festival, spirits can cross over to the world of the living and people leave offerings to appease them. Ling and Freja become friends and Freja commits herself to helping Ling remember.
Along the way Freja and Ling tumble into a magical alternative world… will changing things in that world help Ling remember?
I highly, highly recommend The Hungry Ghost to everyone. It’s full of stunning descriptions and beautiful scenes of Singapore, past and present.
The way that Norup marries the past and present really made this book for me. Ling is from a different time and had a very different way of life. Learning about her teaches Freja about how different other people live and how lucky she is. This crosses over into her present day life, learning that Maya lives in a very small room and sends all her money back to the Philippines for her children.
I love the friendship, I love the way Freja is so focused on helping Ling remember her life, like it was giving her something to focus on that wasn’t missing her mum.
The Hungry Ghost is also about memory. It’s not just about Ling’s missing memories but also Freja worries that her mother will forget her while she’s away – something that I’m sure young people worry about when they’re separated from one parent.
The imagery in the book takes you off to Singapore, wether you’ve been there or not. It transports you to the magical fantasy world that Freja and Ling discover and it keeps you on your toes.
I should mention another part I’m glad Norup includes: the imaginary friend. After mentioning Ling to her father, Freja is told that Ling is probably an imaginary friend and her father won’t entertain it. I feel that Freja’s frustration may have been higher if she wasn’t so confident in her own mind – she’s definitely a strong heroine with a wonderful perspective on life, she takes everything in her stride.
The Hungry Ghost would work so well as a classroom read – to any teachers out there! You could also create some Chinese themed art to go with it!