Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mercy: The Last New England Vampire Book Review

 Author: Sarah L. Thomson. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Islandport Press. ISBN: 9781934031364.

Annotation: As part of a school assignment, fourteen-year-old Haley Brown decides to study her ancestor, Mercy Brown, who died of consumption at age nineteen and was thought to have been a vampire who sucked the life from her remaining siblings after her death. The more she learns about Mercy, the more Haley fears that she is being haunted by the restless spirit who seeks to prove the truth about her death.

Personal thoughts: As a big fan of history, I was really looking forward to this novel because it is based on a true story, something I had never really experienced in paranormal young adult literature. I was not disappointed! Although the novel is short, the author does an excellent job of creating the appropriate atmosphere for Haley’s encountering the ghost of Mercy Brown. I also felt that the liberties the author took in fictionalizing Mercy’s story into a ghostly mystery were really well done. I would highly recommend this novel to history buffs, both teen and adult.

Plot summary: Fourteen-year-old Haley Brown is struggling with a lot of uncertainty in her life. Her cousin and close friend, Jake, is dying from an unknown chronic illness. Her dad and stepmother seem to be perpetually focused on her two-year-old half brother, Eddie. And her mom, who left their home in Rhode Island to live in New York City, promises Haley a Thanksgiving dinner of takeout when she comes to visit. To make matters worse, Haley has been assigned to research one of her ancestors, and decides to do her project on Mercy Brown. Mercy, who lived in the late 1800s, died of consumption at age 19. Her mother and older sister Grace died of the disease before her, and after her death, her younger brother Edwin fell ill. Determined to protect his only son, Mercy’s father, at the request of the townspeople, exhumed Mercy’s body. When it was found that her heart contained fresh blood, she was branded a vampire who was returning from beyond the grave to suck the life out of her brother. Her heart was burned, and Mercy’s name was forever slandered. As Haley learns more about Mercy’s life, strange things begin happening. Haley is plagued by the disembodied sound of a beating heart, icy cold sensations, and mysterious messages left for her to see. Could the ghost of Mercy have returned to help Haley clear her name as a vampire?

Mercy Brown's headstone
Exeter, Rhode Island
Review:  Although it is short in duration, this quiet mystery from esteemed author Sarah L. Thomson provides a different approach to the vampire craze that has swept young adult literature, one for readers who want a book with something below the surface. Based on the true story of Mercy Brown who died in 1892, teens who are fans of history, particularly that pertaining to New England, will enjoy the author’s inclusion of historical accounts in the plot of the novel. Mercy was truly exhumed, her heart was cut-out post-mortem and burned, the ashes given to her brother Edwin who was dying of consumption. Although the author does fictionalize the true “vampire” in the novel, learning about the real Mercy Brown and how people, especially women, were often vilified as the source of disease and other natural occurrences adds a great deal of depth to the story. Readers can be entertaining by Haley and her efforts to uncover the truth about Mercy and her connection to the rest of the Brown family, while being asked to think about the implications of the story beyond the scope of the mystery. Being based in part in history, Mercy would have a strong place in a middle school collection, particularly in drawing in more reluctant readers who are unsure about the historical fiction genre. Overall, a brief but strong novel that can be enjoyed by teen and adult readers alike.

Genre: Fiction/Ghost Story

Reading level: Grade 6+

Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, The Poisoned House by Michael Ford, Tighter by Adele Griffin, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Lark by Tracey Porter.

Themes:  Ghosts, vampires, New England, family history, haunting, mystery.  

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Amanda Marrone, author of Devoured, Michael Bell, author of Food for the Dead, and Christopher Rondina, author of Vampires of New England.

Series Information: N/A  

Discussion questions:
-      Why do you think Haley preferred to talk to Jake more than her father or stepmother?

-    Do you think Haley was being a good friend to Mel? Why or why not?

-      Why do you think Aunt Brown didn’t want Haley to bring Sunny to her house?

-      Do you think Haley’s feelings towards Eddie changed as the story progressed? How?

-     Research the real Mercy Brown. Is there anything about her life that is not included in the novel?

-       What role did superstition play in Mercy’s time? How have things changed?


  1. Thank you for the positive and perceptive review! I'm so glad Mercy is finding her audience--thanks to librarians, especially, who care about getting the right books out to kids!

    1. I'm so glad to hear from you! You are very welcome for the well deserved review! I really enjoyed your book and loved learning more about Mercy. Hope there are more exciting reads from you to come!