You are here:

Hjärtat i Källaren review

Published on


Issue number: 2024:1


Hjärtat i källaren

(The Heart in the Cellar)

by Micaela Favilla
reviewed by Catherine Venner

Aurora Johansson lives alone with her mother in a block of flats. She is very timid and often goes unnoticed at school because of her mousy hair and ordinary appearance. She doesn’t have any friends at school, but in her neighbourhood there is a gang of children led by Chrissie, a girl with a mean streak. Aurora hangs around with them so that she is not always at home with her mother, who is constantly rearranging the furniture.

One day Chrissie suggests they play hide and seek in the basement, a game Aurora hates but plays to avoid Chrissie’s scorn. There are rumours of ghosts in the basement. Aurora hides very well, and is the last to be found. While in her hiding place, she notices an old woman go into a neighbouring basement space full of preserves where she spills something. Eventually Aurora comes out of hiding and joins the others, but the game is over and due to a mix-up Aurora is left with Chrissie’s key to the cellar.

In the night Aurora wakes up and her finger is glowing red. She tries to calm it with water but her finger has a life of its own and drags her out of her flat and back down to the cellar where she goes into the old woman’s lock-up. Her hands take over and she picks up what the old woman spilled: a beetroot. But it’s no ordinary beetroot; it’s beating like a heart. Aurora takes it back upstairs and hides it in her drawer.

The next morning Aurora sleeps late and her mother wakes her with a shopping list. Before leaving, Aurora checks the beetroot heart, but it is no longer beating. At the supermarket, she asks a stranger if she may pat his dog, even though she is afraid of dogs. She smiles at a girl she recognises from school, also out of character for her. She believes she sees the old woman from the cellar again too. Just before paying, her hands take control and put a lot of beetroot products in her basket.

The next Monday at school, Aurora goes to see the school nurse about the red rash that has appeared on her hands. There she meets the girl from the supermarket again, Mira, who she tells about the heart in the cellar and the shopping trip. They agree to meet at the supermarket that evening, but when the time comes Aurora’s hands don’t take over as before, so Aurora flees in embarrassment.

At home, the beetroot heart looks dead, so Aurora takes a bite out of it. Then she lets herself into the neighbour’s flat, which is for sale, and sees evidence of the old woman, even though the flat has been empty for months. Aurora realises that this old woman is a ghost of herself in the future and sees future newspaper articles about herself.

The next morning, Aurora’s hair has turned red. Her mother is angry but relents when she hears it’s just beetroot. Aurora gets her mother to promise they won’t move into the next-door flat. At school, the other children notice Aurora and complement her on her hair. She makes up with Mira. On the way home, Chrissie wants her key back, but Aurora frightens her by telling her the ghost in the cellar is Chrissie’s future ghost. In the end Aurora leaves with her new friend, Mira.

This spooky story is perfect for older junior school children (9 plus), who like the occasional fright. Nothing too sinister or dangerous happens, but there is always the suggestion of the beetroot taking control and it is great fodder for the imagination.

Each chapter is 5 to 7 pages long and is accompanied by a striking drawing in black, white and red that really brings the story to life. An unusual ghost story, it combines humour with horror and provides a satisfying ending when Aurora is no longer lonely after her escapades with the beetroot.

Micaela Favilla in leafy surroundings wearing a black jumper.
Micaela Favilla. Photo: Stefan Tell.

Hjärtat i Källaren

Bonnier Carlsen, 2023

119 pages

Foreign rights: Ragnhild Glimregn, Bonnier Carlsen

Micaela Favilla is an author and illustrator of numerous children’s books. She is also the illustrator of Hjärtat i Källaren.