I fit another smile / onto my lips, / like I’m putting on / a new coat, / one with knives hidden / in its pockets, / and walk / across / the threshold. / I’m a comet tail of a girl, / hurtling toward / the dark center of something / I don’t understand. / Stop me / if you’ve heard this one before: / a musician / descends / into the underworld. / (But the story / doesn’t have to end there.) – Romero, pages 271-272
The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R.M. Romero is a 2022 young adult fantasy novel from Peachtree Publishing Company. It centers around Ilana, a biracial Jewish girl sent to live with her artist aunt in Prague for the summer. Ilana is a violinist; it is her dream to pursue music as a career upon her high school graduation. Her immigrant parents, however, want her to pursue something more practical, hoping that she will have financial and professional success in their home city of Miami. They expect that seeing her aunt’s modest life will turn Ilana away from music, and that her time in Prague will give her the discipline to study for her upcoming SATs.
As soon as she arrives in Prague, though, Ilana discovers an abandoned Jewish cemetery on Rose Hill, the land behind her aunt’s cottage. She decides to devote most of her summer to honoring the dead by restoring this cemetery. Here, she meets a ghost named Benjamin, a gentle soul who died many years ago. As Ilana and Benjamin fall for each other, Ilana begins to unravel the sinister reason Benjamin is still tied to the land of the living, opening her eyes to the magic hiding in plain sight in Prague.
The Ghosts of Rose Hill is an exciting, enchanting read. R. M. Romero based Ilana’s tale on her own summers spent maintaining Jewish cemeteries in Poland. A Jewish Latina herself, Romero drew upon Jewish culture and folklore to create Prague’s magical side. The novel is written in verse, which adds an extra level of artistry and emotional weight to the story. Readers will truly feel as if they are surrounded by Prague’s magic and ghosts. The characters—including the ghosts—are so vibrant that it feels like they could walk right off the page and into real life. The villain, Rudolf Wassermann, is both terrifying and intriguing. His “Interludes” reveal his dark intentions to the reader before Ilana begins to suspect the truth, making the lead-up to her final revelation even more suspenseful.
As a narrator, Ilana is a likeable character that readers cannot help but root for. She has a deep sense of self; she knows that music is in her soul, and her heritage is deeply important to her. In her final confrontation with Wassermann, she draws such power from the stories of “her People” that, to the reader, she truly seems invincible. Even if readers cannot relate to her Jewish heritage, they will love the power Ilana has simply as a young woman. She contemplates what it means to be “the final girl” in a story—the girl who survives the horrors inflicted upon the characters—and uses her determination to become the final girl as another weapon against Wassermann. She also calls upon her love for Benjamin and her compassion for the other ghosts of Prague in the final fight, proving that she is both strong and emotional, a nuanced girl growing into a capable woman.
The Ghosts of Rose Hill is not a horror story, but it is certainly ghostly enough to be the perfect Halloween read. I highly recommend it!