Vikki Wakefield needs no introduction. A master of the YA genre and Australian native, Ballad For A Mad Girl is her fourth book, and it does not disappoint. Just a hint of advice before diving into it, though – you might want to read it with the lights on.
Seventeen year old Grace Foley is well known in her small town of Swanston, Victoria. She’s a prankster, hyperactive, and a little bit mad. She’s not afraid of anything – except losing. So when there’s a challenge on between her own public school and the local private school, Grace rises up to the challenge. She’s to cross an old pipe across a ravine with a deadly drop beneath her. She already holds the time record for it, so there’s no problem with Grace taking the bait.
But for all she’s done it with ease before, Grace experiences something haunting in the middle of the pipe – a ghostly feeling takes over her, and she sees the name of the girl who went missing from their town twenty three years ago, at the age of seventeen – Hannah Holt. She panics. She feels someone there, someone she can’t see, and worst of all – she loses the challenge.
The next day, though, things start to get a bit weird. Without meaning to, she sketches the image of the missing girl. Clocks and the radio show her different things. She feels like she’s possessed. Birds go crazy around her, and her dog, Diesel, won’t come near her anymore. As her delusions get worse, she manages somehow to push away her friends when she needs them most. She feels like she’s compelled to solve the mystery of what happened to Hannah Holt – compelled by something supernatural. And then there’s the death of her own mother to figure out…
Ballad For A Mad Girl seems to bring all sorts of different genres into one. It’s a coming of age novel, it’s a horror, it’s speculative, it’s fantastical, and most of all, it’s honest. Even with the elements of fantasy and the supernatural, everything in this book feels so very real – and perhaps that’s why it’s so frightening. The suspense and the tension will crawl under your skin, but you know it’s more than that. Ballad For A Mad Girl isn’t just a book about the supernatural. It’s about change and growing up, and perhaps that’s the scariest part. It’s reality that’s frightening, not the ghost under your bed.
As we follow Grace on her journey to find out what’s real and what’s not, we’re also following her on her own journey of grief and acceptance. Add in a ghost and a murder mystery, and Ballad For A Mad Girl really hits all the right notes. It’s a YA novel, sure, but we recommend it for ages seventeen and up – it really does get quite spooky. That being said, it’s a masterpiece of growing up and moving on, and while we might not have literal ghosts haunting us, Ballad For A Mad Girl shows us how to be strong and deal with our own ghosts of the past.