The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R.M. Romero is, in a word, stunning. Romero’s lush imagery brings this atmospheric story to life, while her evocative verse creates an inescapable cadence that draws the reader forward and befits a tale of monsters and music, legend and history.
Ilana Lopez is of Cuban, Jewish, and Slavic heritage, and her awareness of the parallel experiences of her ancestors—the Holocaust in Europe and the communist regimes of her mother’s Cuba and father’s Prague—informs the lens through which she sees the world. She thinks in terms of Jewish folklore, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and creatures of myth and magic that go by different names in different places, weaving together the strands of her many cultures to create a rich tapestry against which her story is set.
As Ilana walks the streets of Prague and visits its museums and cafes, shops and synagogues, she—and the novel itself—is always conscious of Europe’s twin legacies of great art and grim history. The past doesn’t seem so far away in this Old World city full of so much memory and so many ghosts, and the feeling of timelessness that pervades the book gives it an enchanted air, like Sleeping Beauty’s frozen castle, undisturbed for a century.
Ilana’s tale is one of liminal spaces, as she is caught between childhood and adulthood, home and away, life and death. Alongside her otherworldly battles, Ilana struggles to navigate the more typical concerns of a teenager—first love, familial expectations, uncertainty about the future, and finding her own way—with which most readers will relate.
The novel’s only weak point is that the rest of the characters feel a bit underdeveloped. Except for the villain, most of the secondary cast have little presence, and even the love interest Benjamin lacks dimension. Ilana insists that they understand each other in a way no one else does, but readers don’t see that closeness develop on the page, making their romance feel rushed. However, there are a few bright moments that shed some light on Benjamin’s personality, like a sweet and playful afternoon of make-believe in the park with the younger ghosts.
Ultimately, The Ghosts of Rose Hill is a beautifully written and moving tale about love and loss, grief and hope, that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.
With spellbinding verse prose, R.M. Romero channels the spirit of myth into a brilliantly original tale, inspired by her experiences restoring Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe.
Magic will burn you up.
Sent to stay with her aunt in Prague and witness the humble life of an artist, Ilana Lopez—a biracial Jewish girl—finds herself torn between her dream of becoming a violinist and her immigrant parents’ desire for her to pursue a more stable career.
When she discovers a forgotten Jewish cemetery behind her aunt’s cottage, she meets the ghost of a kindhearted boy named Benjamin, who died over a century ago. As Ilana restores Benjamin’s grave, he introduces her to the enchanted side of Prague, where ghosts walk the streets and their kisses have warmth.
But Benjamin isn’t the only one interested in Ilana. Rudolph Wassermann, a man with no shadow, has become fascinated with her and the music she plays. He offers to share his magic, so Ilana can be with Benjamin and pursue her passion for violin. But after Ilana discovers the truth about Wassermann and how Benjamin became bound to the city, she resolves to save the boy she loves, even if it means losing him—forever.
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. The Ghosts of Rose Hill was inspired by these experiences.