Review: Give Up the Ghost

by Megan Crewe

Cass has spent much more time in the last few years in the company of ghosts than she has in the company of living beings.  After a horrible encounter with her supposed best friend that left her ostracized by the entire school and then the untimely death of her older sister, Cass has had a lot to deal with.  When her sister shows up as a ghost, Cass is the only one who sees her and now Cass still has her big sister around for help and advice, even if she isn’t technically alive.  Cass has also made good friends with a few ghosts that hang around her high school.  For Cass, ghosts are the ideal friends because they can’t hurt her the way people have, and that makes them extremely appealing.  Cass’ world is about to change again when Tim, student council VP and card carrying member of the popular crowd, asks for her help.  Tim lost his mother just months before and wants Cass to help him contact his mom’s ghost.  Cass is skeptical and reluctant to trust a living person, but when she realizes that Tim needs her for much more than just talking to his mom, how can she refuse?

Reaction: This one surprised me, in a good way.  I really thought it was just going to be a cutesy ghost story with a fluffy romance and some “issues” thrown in but not developed, and I was ok with that because I do enjoy that kind of book, but Give Up the Ghost was much more than that.  Cass has some serious issues with trust.  Not only did her friends completely betray her but ever since her sister died, her mother has thrown herself into her career as a travel writer and is barely if ever home and when she is home she seems to criticize Cass to no end.  I didn’t always like Cass necessarily, though I understood where she was coming from.  I didn’t agree with the choices she was making when it came to learning other students’ secrets and then using the secrets against them.  I know in her head she was doing a service, trying to stop the high school evils from happening, but her actions often didn’t make her any better than those she was trying to school.

Then there is Tim, who is a complete wreck.  Just when I thought Cass was the one who really needed help, along comes Tim.  Tim, who seemingly has it all, at least to Cass, is hurting and no one has noticed.  The death of his mother and the betrayal of his father when Tim needed him the most has left Tim a shell of his former self.  His friends don’t know how to talk to him so they don’t and he has practically no support system except for an aunt who lives in another town.  Tim is left to wallow in his grief with no clear way out.  I was proud of Cass for trying with Tim.  She didn’t make it easy on him and she certainly didn’t make all the write choices but she could have continued to shut him out but she was able to see beyond her own problems and issues to help Tim in the best way she knew how.

Give Up the Ghost is a great book for people who are dealing with grief, for people who have dealt with bullying, and for anyone who’s felt like they are on the outside.  Both Cass and Tim show that no matter how bad things get they aren’t always going to be that way.  I think Cass especially really matured and grew to learn that shutting people out is no way live.

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ROYAL Roundup: November

My Reviewers of Young Adult Literature (ROYAL) group met tonight to share the books we read and reviewed in the past two months.  Being awesome, as usually, I did not yet read two of my assigned titles, Ash by Melinda Lo and Ghost Huntress: The Awakening by Marley Gibson.  I’ll add those to the next meeting’s roundup.  Here are the titles I did get to:

Demons LexiconThe Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Nick and his brother, Alan, have been on the run from magicians and the demons magicians use for power for as long as they can remember. Magicians killed their father and drove their mother mad, and now the magicians are after their mother’s special charm, the only thing keeping her alive. Having dealt with magicians and demons for so long, the brothers are known as something of experts on the subject, and brother and sister, Jamie and Mae, seek the brothers out for help when Jamie is triple-marked by a demon. In the process of helping Jamie, Alan is also marked by a demon. Now two magicians must be killed to remove the demon marks from Alan and Jamie, and the hunted become the hunters. On top of everything, Nick suspects that his brother is keeping secrets and lying, and he’s determined to find out what Alan is hiding. Nick, Alan, Mae, and Jamie are about to embark on the battle of their lives.

A standout in the saturated fantasy genre. The characters are well drawn and three dimensional, especially Nick, who is very different from the others and lacks the ability to experience typical human emotions. The story will appeal to a wide audience. Boys will appreciate the sword fights and fast-paced action and girls will enjoy the depth of the relationships between the two sets of siblings and the new relationships that are forming. The cover may make the book hard to sell. I’ve had it on display at my library and it just sits there. A simpler, more gender-neutral cover may serve to market it a bit better.

How to Say Goodbye in RobotHow to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

For her senior year, Bea is moving to yet another new school, following as her professor father changes colleges once again. Bea is used to moving a lot and not having any close friends but she was also used to having a fun-loving mother who was more friend than parent, and this is no longer the case. Bea’s mother has taken a crazy turn. She has become emotional, withdrawn, and obsessed with chickens. When Bea starts her new school, she’s not sure what to expect and is just looking forward to making in through the year and onto the freedom of college. Bea is in for an unexpected surprise when she finds a soul mate of sorts in a lonely boy named Jonah, called Ghost Boy. Jonah hasn’t had a friend in years, since the death of his mentally handicapped twin brother and mother. Somehow he and Bea connect over a late night radio talk show, shared beliefs, and good conversation but their relationship is far from easy.

A very well written story about true friendship. I believe almost everyone hopes to click with someone in the way that Bea and Jonah connect but their relationship is also volatile. Jonah has lived so long alone with his pain and, while Bea seems to help bring him back to life, when Jonah has periods of withdrawal from Bea, it is heartbreaking. The characterizations are wonderful, not only of Bea and Jonah but also the many secondary characters. I especially enjoyed the regular callers to the Night Lights radio program and was impressed with how well Standiford was able to make Jonah’s father a sympathetic character despite all of the horrible choices he made. A fairly typical paragraph structure is broken up by short snippets from the radio program, which adds interest to the book’s structure. While this is a truly wonderful novel, I don’t think it will have a broad appeal. Special readers will be enthralled but others just may not understand it.

*Bea and Jonah’s relationship reminded me of Jennifer and Cameron from Sweethearts by Sara Zarr but with more going on much more substance to the story outside of the relationship.

Chasing BoysChasing Boys by Karen Tayleur

El’s dad is gone and now her family has downsized. Her big house, mostly stay-at-home mom, and fancy private school are gone. Now they live in an apartment where El shares a room with her sister, her mother works long hours, and El is enrolled in public school. The fact that this life is temporary, only until all the legalities are worked out, helps El get through the day. El has made two good friends at her new school, Margot and Desi, but she mostly tries to stay detached, until her crush, a new boy, and a new friend cause her to once again alter the view of her reality.

The title and cover seem to suggest that this is a light, fluffy book about girl/boy relationships but it is so much more. El is struggling with the loss of her father and, to some extent, the loss of her identity as her life is turned completely upside down. El’s thoughts and reactions seem spot on for a teenage girl. Some of my favorite passages are when El is talking in her mind to her therapist, Leonard, to whom she refuses to talk to during their sessions. Short chapters make this an accessible read for reluctant readers. Readers who are expecting a romance with a neat, wrapped up ending may be disappointed but those who can get past expectations will be in for a treat. Great read for fans of Dessen and Caletti.

Other books, reviewed by others, that piqued my interest:

The next meeting is in January and these are the titles I will be talking about then:

  • Goats: Infinite Typewriters by Jonathan Rosenberg (graphic)
  • Ninja Girls, volume 1 by Hosana Tanaka (manga)
  • Move Over, Rover: What to Name Your New Pup When the Ordinary Just Won’t Do by Kyra Kirkwood
  • Girl to the Core by Stacy Goldblatt
  • Possessed by Kate Cann