I had really high hopes for Tonya Hurley’s novel ghostgirl after seeing an advanced reading copy of the novel due out in August 2008 (this despite the fact that the title is all lower case). The book design is really amazing: Taller and narrower than a mass market book, the novel immediately looks different. The dominant colors are pink and black. The cover features a silhouette in what looks like a coffin with a sash that reads “Rest in Popularity.” Even the interior of the book is snazzy featuring a silhouette by Craig Phillips at the start of each chapter and a loopy border at the top and bottom of each page. In other words, this book looked really cool. Even its marketing campaign is cool. Just take a look at www.ghostgirl.com to see what I mean.
Despite all of that, I’m still not sure how I feel about ghostgirl. I was hesitant to put this novel as a CLW review at all. But, by the end of the story, it’s clear that the main character is trying and she does change eventually and, since that’s all anyone can ask, I decided to go with it.
And, now that I’ve set up the novel more than anyone would have thought possible, on to the review:
Charlotte Usher is virtually invisible at her high school. She’s the kind of girl no one would miss if she disappeared suddenly. Even when she does exactly that. To be more specific, she dies. Because of a gummy bear.
Adding insult to injury, Charlotte was certain things were looking up before she died. After a rigorous summer campaign, Charlotte was finally prepared (mentally and physically thanks to intense surveillance and a makeover) to make a play for her crush, Damen Dylan–the guy every girl at Hawthorne High wants to date. Even Damen’s snooty girlfriend Petula and her sidekicks, The Wendys, couldn’t discourage Charlotte.
With that kind of tenacity, it’s not surprising that Charlotte isn’t about to let a little thing like being dead get in the way of her goal. Wandering town as a spirit with unfinished business, Charlotte decides to focus on living the life she was so close to having instead of dying with style. Much to the chagrin of her new “Dead Ed” classmates who are all waiting to learn their own lessons and finally rest in peace. What follows is a zany plot involving stalking, possession (don’t worry, it’s consensual), and a love triangle that has to be read to be believed.
As that description might suggest, this plot–like the book itself–has a lot of potential. Sadly, a lot of that potential is squandered. Charlotte is painfully invisible to her classmates before her death. Unfortunately she remains equally aloof from readers. At points I feel like I can see Charlotte, but not once in the novel did I feel like I knew her. (This is, to a lesser extent, a problem for the other characters as well.) While her desires are obvious throughout the novel, her motivations never quite manifest.
The actual narrative has its own shaky points. Hurley has several characters mention that teen-aged ghosts are too self-absorbed to miss their families, which seemed like an easy (too easy) way to write out an entire part of Charlotte’s life. It also leaves the question of why no one tried to help Charlotte make friends before her death unanswered.
Finally, the tone of the novel is slightly erratic. The novel alternates haphazardly between morbid and flippant at breakneck speeds making the characters seem cartoonish with their odd situations and reactions to them (I’m not even talking about Charlotte being a ghost here)
Yet, I still finished ghostgirl and I still did enjoy parts of it. If you can get past the erratic writing and underdeveloped characters, this is an okay book even if it doesn’t live up to the hopes created by its design.
Almost in spite of herself, Charlotte does learn her lesson and find peace by the end of the story as she begins to understand that, sometimes, there’s more to life than being seen–even in high school.
Possible Pairings: Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Alice, I Think by Susany Juby, Saving Francesca by Susan Juby, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, Sucks to be Me by Kimberly Pauley, My Big Nose and Other (Natural) Disasters by Sydney Salter