The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R. M. Romero
Peachtree Teen (May 3, 2022)
452 pages; $18.99 hardcover
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
R.M. Romero is a Jewish Latina and author of fairy tales for children and adults. She lives in Miami Beach with her cat Henry VIII and spends her summers helping to maintain Jewish cemeteries in Poland. You can visit her online at RMRomero.com. Her newest book, a YA verse novel, is the ethereal The Ghosts of Rose Hill.
The Ghosts of Rose Hill features Illana Lopez, a biracial Jewish teenager who is sent to spend a summer in Prague with her aunt. Her parents send her there to encourage her to focus on her studies and give up her passion for music. However, once in Prague, Illana discovers a forgotten Jewish cemetery by her aunt’s house and meets a ghost who lives there. As she tends his grave and befriends him, he introduces her to a magical side of the city. However, this journey is not without danger. A violinist named Wasserman, a mysterious and enchanting man with no shadow, pursues Illana. He offers her promises of music and a life with her ghost, but there’s a dark side to this bargain, and Illana must make a choice that will ultimately change her life.
Romero’s narrative is lush and magical, and the verse novel form suits it well. Her language is accessible for her target audience, but it’s rich with metaphor and connotation, as all good poetry should be. At times, the narrative takes over, and the book reads like a prose story simply chopped into uneven lines, but most of the time Romero makes the form work for her story, and the reader is enchanted. The story itself reads like a fairy tale imbued with religious myth and mystery, capturing the audience in its magic and leaving them satisfied.
What makes The Ghosts of Rose Hill particularly interesting is the history found within the texts. Romero has clearly researched Prague or knows the city intimately, and this shows in the text. Furthermore, the lessons of Jewish rituals and religious rules found within the text not only educate the reader, but also add context and depth to the characters, specifically Illana. However, the way these elements are introduced doesn’t come across as overly didactic, and feel natural within the language of the story.
Overall, The Ghosts of Rose Hill is a really strong YA verse novel. It’s part ghost story, part mythical horror, part fairy tale, part spell-binding narrative all wrapped up in the perspective of an intelligent and self-aware teenage heroine. YA readers will certainly be engaged by this tale, but older readers will not be disappointed. Fans of delicate ghost stories and mythic horror will thoroughly enjoy this tale.