We are absolutely delighted to join author, Helle Norup on The Hungry Ghost blog tour. We love the way that The Hungry Ghost gives an insight into everyday life and cultural traditions in Singapore, an experience that Helle herself has had. This experience also adds to the authenticity of this fast paced, mystery story which in places is quite dark but has a satisfying, hopeful ending.
The Story: Twelve year old Freya moves to Singapore in the month of The Hungry Ghost to live with her Dad and his new family. One night Freya looks out of her bedroom window and sees a girl in a white dress. Ling is a ghost who is trying to find answers about her past so that she can return in peace to her other world.
A fast paced, magical adventure follows as Freya tries to help Ling discover who her family was and where she lived before she died. During the story Freya also learns more about a forgotten trauma in her own childhood which has contributed to her mother’s illness.
Freya is a resourceful, adventurous character whose move to Singapore leads to a journey of self-discovery. She is a keen scout who has learnt to fend for herself in the outdoors, one of her treasured possessions is her Swiss Army knife. She hopes that her Dad will spend quality time with her, she is particularly looking forward to going hiking, but he is always working so Freya is left to explore her new surroundings alone.
Many different themes are cleverly woven throughout the story which follows a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world, come to terms with past secrets and make sense of her new family situation and environment.
Singapore: Helle’s descriptions are full of rich language and she uses all senses to describe the heat, the smells, the skyscrapers and the busy city streets. Her vivid descriptions transport you to bustling markets, a getai performance and Bukit Brown Cemetery, a wild and overgrown environment which is particularly spooky and threatening at night.
Family: Freya has left her sick mother in Denmark but fitting into her new family’s routine isn’t easy. Freya is disappointed that Dad hasn’t taken time off to spend her first few days in Singapore with her and although her step mother Clementine, tries hard to forge a relationship with Freya her efforts are sometimes misguided, none of the clothes that she buys for Freya suit her. Freya isn’t particularly interested in spending time with her toddler brothers but is happy to chat to the maid, Maya, whose stories about her own life help Freya to understand a little of Singapore’s history so that she can help Ling.
School and friendships: Freya starts a new school and makes friends with children from several different cultures, we love the way that their diverse backgrounds and different experiences lead them to bond so quickly. Sunitha, Kiera, Cheryl Yi and Jason all help Freya understand the traditions and customs that are observed during The Hungry Ghost Festival but they also also come to her rescue at a time when she really needs help.
The Hungry Ghost Festival: This takes place during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. At this time old spirits roam among the living so families prepare offerings of food and entertainment to reduce their fear of bad luck. Freya’s first experience of this is at Jason’s house where Jason’s grandmother also explains more about the offerings that are given and the different types of ghosts.
A getai performance takes place during The Hungry Ghost Festival and is a concert for both humans and ghosts. Freya and her friends go to a getai performance but humans aren’t allowed to sit in the first rows, they are left empty, they’re reserved for ghosts.
Culture: Feng shui, tigers, dragons, snakes, supernatural tales and traditional ceremonies are woven throughout the story and provide a vivid and fascinating background to Asian culture.
This is a fast paced, thrilling and emotional story – it’s a real page turner and I read it in a single sitting. It kept me gripped from start to finish and I couldn’t wait to learn more about the family and piece together clues that revealed the secrets that both girls eventually unearth. A glossary at the end of the book elaborates on some of the more unfamiliar terms, customs and traditional foods – the book gives an amazing insight into life in Singapore 🙂
Helle and I met last year through SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) when she was promoting her first book, The Missing Barbegazi, which is set in Austria. The Hungry Ghost is her second book and I asked Helle about what inspired her to write the story;
‘The hungry ghost festival month and its rituals intrigued me, from the first time I saw an offering on the pavement outside a house. After Singaporean friends told me stories about hungry ghosts and all the taboos in the seventh month, my interest increased. I couldn’t help thinking about these forgotten spirits, and one of them wanted to tell me her story…
While I was writing the first draft of the manuscript, I read about the hungry ghosts, and, when the seventh month began, I sought out the celebrations. I walked around Chinatown and Toa Payoh (an area with tower blocks that Freja also visits in the book) at night and asked questions of people who were burning offerings. I went to Bukit Brown cemetery after dark and inspected the remains of burnt offerings in the graveyard during the day. My impressions from a getai show—a stage performance for both the living and the dead—are captured in the book. The only thing I didn’t experience was an encounter with a hungry ghost.’
Thank you Helle and huge congratulations on the publication of this wonderful story 🙂
About H. S. Norup
H. S. Norup is the author of The Hungry Ghost and The Missing Barbegazi—a Sunday Times Book of the Year in 2018. Originally from Denmark, she has lived in six different countries and now resides in Switzerland with her husband and two teenage sons.
Helle has a master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration and sixteen years’ experience in corporate marketing strategy and communications. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors either skiing, hiking, walking, golfing or taking photos.
You can discover more about The Hungry Ghost on the following blog tour stops;