The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street by Cory Putnam Oakes

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street by Cory Putnam Oakes
Pub. Date: August 18, 2020
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Amulet Books!)
Summary: Twelve-year-old Willow Ivan’s family has run the Hotel Ivan for four hundred years. Through thick and thin, they’ve held on tight to their title as the Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street. That is, until the Hauntery—a corporate chain of haunted hotels—moves in down the street. As the Ivan’s business fades, so do their ghostly staff. And Willow begins to worry that The Ivan’s days are numbered.

Then Willow meets Evie, a Hauntery ghost who’s forced to play the part of a Spooky Little Girl even though she longs to be a Terrifying Phantasm. So when Willow offers her a job at The Ivan, Evie accepts—but she doesn’t tell Willow that she’s still working for The Ivan’s competition, for fear of losing her new job and friend.

Together, the girls come up with a plan to save The Ivan. But with The Ivan ghosts already fading and Evie’s secret threatening to come out, will it be too late?
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

For four hundred years the Hotel Ivan has been ranked the Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street. Unfortunately, a new hotel moves in, the Hauntery, a nation-wide chain of haunted hotels…and each one consistently receives 5-star ratings. How long can a tiny, family-run operation last against a corporate giant?

As if hotel woes weren’t enough for Willow to worry about, she’s left to pick up the pieces after her mom’s sudden death six months ago. Her father fell into a deep depression, leaving Willow to run the hotel nearly on her own. Bills have been going unpaid, deliveries weren’t being made, and – worst of all – some of the staff have begun fading, eventually they’ll leave this world for the next.

Evie’s family have recently been hired at the Hauntery. Much to Evie’s chagrin, she and her cousin are tasked to be the Spooky Little Girls, decked out in pigtails and frilly dresses, beckoning patrons to come play. What Evie would much rather do is be a frightening Phantasm – and she suddenly gets her shot after a chance encounter with Willow leads to a job. What Willow doesn’t know, however, is that Evie also works for the competition…and Evie is in no rush to confess.

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street was an absolute delight from the very first page. Willow’s world is one where ghosts are not only a part of everyday life, they’re big business. The ghosts on the Hotel Ivan’s staff have been there decades – some have been around for centuries, unlike the Hauntery who runs their chain with laser precision. They have handbooks and uniforms, roles each character needs to play, and going off-script results in a swift termination. They’re the corporate bigwigs gunning for the small mom-and-pop inn, but the Hotel Ivan isn’t going down without a fight.

On the surface The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street sounds like a fun, light-hearted read – and it certainly is! But it also has a few surprises up its sleeve. Topics like mental health and depression are addressed as Willow’s dad all but becomes a shell of his former self with the death of Willow’s mom. He does zero parenting, lets the staff run the hotel, skips out of the therapy appointments Willow sets. There’s also an issue I’ve never seen come up before: truancy. When Willow’s mother died, Willow took it upon herself to keep the business running, and that meant school was no longer part of the equation. And her father’s despair is so great, he doesn’t even notice. Willow doesn’t allow herself to deal with her own grief – twelve-years-old and running a business.

I was also completely and pleasantly caught off guard by a pair of hotel ghosts: Leo and Alford, a married couple. And Leo has a drag persona, Leonata. So fun and just part of the story, rather than an Important Talking Point.

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street is a total delight from the start: a David and Goliath story with ghosts. There’s witty wordplay, an LGBT ghost couple, and fun callbacks to horror tropes. It’s also a story with a hidden depth and tackles heavy topics like depression and grief. I tore through this one in no time and look forward to what the author does next!

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