The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street

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The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
August 18, 2020
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A family-run haunted hotel’s livelihood is threatened when a bigger haunted hotel opens nearby in this hilarious, spooky story

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?

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Family focused ghost story with heart
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Willow Ivan loves her family's haunted hotel, Hotel Ivan. Since her mother died, however, things haven't been the same. Suddenly, her dad is quiet and distant, and she's the one in charge of keeping the hotel going. To make matters worse, a new Hauntery hotel is opening down the street and is a huge threat to their business. Meanwhile at the Hauntery, one of their newly hired ghosts, Evie, is struggling too. Her family wants her to continue being the Spooky Little Girl, but she wants to be something more. When Willow and Evie's paths cross, Willow hires Evie to work at the Hotel Ivan on a quest to save it, but Evie keeps her status at the Hauntery a secret. With so much on the line, Willow will have to dig deep and learn to trust those around her if she wants to save her home.

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street is a humorous and fun family-and-friendship focused novel. The incorporation of how ghosts fit into the world was clever and understandable without being too detailed. Hotel Ivan has more ghosts on staff than living humans, and each staff member has a unique personality, like Pierce the concierge and Chef Antonia. What adds strong emotional depth to the story is Willow's mother, now a recently deceased ghost who isn't like the other ghosts. Willow is not only grieving the loss of her mother and the absence of her father, but is also trying to convince herself that her mom is only just adjusting to being a ghost and not a WISP (a ghost who isn't fully aware of what's happening and usually fades within a year).

Contrasting to Willow's situation, Evie still has her parents (ghosts, but not WISPs, like herself) who love her, but only see one specific future for her, which is different than what Evie wants for herself. Evie's journey in learning to stand up for herself is moving and nuanced, as is her growing friendship with Willow.

The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street is a heart-warming story with all the spooks but none of the scares, making this a good selection for readers who love the spirit of Halloween but shy away from the horror genre.
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Ghosts Need Jobs, Too
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Willow Ivan's family has run a haunted hotel for 400 years, although business has not been good lately. Her father is so distraught at the death of her mother that he pays no attention to the business at all, and Willow hasn't been to school in six months. Her mother haunts the hotel, but as a weeping woman who can't remember much, which is difficult. The hotel is staffed with actual ghosts, some of whom, like Pierce, have been there since the beginning. When a chain hotel, the Hauntery, opens up on the same street, everyone is very concerned that this will mean the end of their business. The Hotel Ivan is highly rated according to all of the best haunted hotel measures (like the Zagged guide), but offers a gentler, cozier haunted experience. The Hauntery strives for consistency across locations, so hires ghosts to fill particular roles. Evie and her family work there, and Evie and her cousin play the role of "spooky little girls" who dress in dresses and pigtails, and have a set script of asking people to play with them in a creepy fashion. When Evie goes off script, she gets in trouble with the management. The two girls meet when they both go to the local library and Evie (who is such a new ghost that she can't manipulate material objects) reads a mystery novel over Willow's shoulder. Evie does not tell Willow that she works at the Hauntery, and when Hotel Ivan is in need of a phantasm, Evie offers to work, since that is a role she would like to embrace. The Ivan's ghosts are starting to fade at an alarming rate, and Willow can't quite figure out why. Her investigations also turn up some inconsistencies at the Hauntery, where the big draw for employment is that the employees DON'T fade. As things become more and more dire, will Willow be ableto figure out the threat of the Hauntery, make peace with her parents, and keep the hotel's Zagged rating?
Good Points
I liked the fact that we were immediately plunged into Willow's world, and there were just enough explanation to keep the story going without getting bogged down in details. Details about the difficulties of running a hotel are realistic, and Willow does the best she can. The issue of her truancy is addressed. I liked that she and Evie bonded over a favorite mystery character. The Hauntery is a great, evil corporate entity, and Evie's struggles to retain her identity will resonate with middle grade readers. There is some diversity with Leo, the screaming phantasm, who has another persona as Leonata, a drag performer, and his husband Alfred.

This was a fun romp, but not really very scary, making it perfect for elementary students who want to read about ghosts and their antics, but has enough meat in it that middle school readers who want a book with magical realism will enjoy as well. There's no dearth of haunted house books around, but the fresh spin of working at a haunted hotel will appeal to readers of books like Poblocki's A House of Stone Throw's Island, Paquette's Rules for Ghosting, Salerni's Eleanor and the Roosevelt Ghosts, and Currie's A Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, who are too young for the glorious horror of Alender's The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall or Bell's Frozen Charlotte.
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