“Give up the Ghost” – Novel – Supernatural/School Drama
10/24/2009 – Now, I know what you’re thinking. You saw the genre that I put up there, “School Drama,” and you sighed and rolled your eyes. It’s a genre that is often flippant, filled with silliness and base, if sometimes clever, observations about the lives (particularly the romantic elements) of teens in high-school. It is filled with heavy breathing, sighing and eye fluttering. It is a genre that has been paired with the supernatural genre often, which only enhances the melodramatic nature of the story.
In this book, Megan Crewe has taken these two genres and done them differently. This book isn’t flippant. It isn’t silly. “Give up the Ghost” takes the basic conceits of a supernatural school drama and uses them to address serious subjects. The death of loved ones, the importance of life, the importance of human connections, the ability to move on, are only some of the serious topics that receive attention in this novel. What’s more, they are addressed skillfully and honestly.
But before I go any further, let me set up the basic premise of the book. Cass is a high school girl who can see and talk to ghosts. She discovered this shortly after her sister’s death, when her sister started haunting her house. Cass had been treated horribly for a long time by her fellow students, and even her best friend had turned on her. So, she uses this ability to talk to ghosts to spy on the students of the school, digging up their dirt. With the ability to hold the truth over her oppressors heads she becomes a feared and solitary individual.
It is in this situation that Tim, one of the popular guys in the school, comes in. He has lost his mother to disease, and he figures that Cass, with her almost magical ability to know the secrets of others, might know how to contact her for him. Cass becomes more and more tied up in Tim’s life, who begins to slide down a dark path toward depression and despair. Soon she is confronted with her own assumptions about others, and herself.
The plot sounds fairly typical, but the way it is presented makes it an entirely different experience. This is largely because the plot is entirely based upon the characters. In some ways, the environments and the events are immaterial, like sets or stages.
The real happenings are all in the hearts and minds of the characters. This normally becomes very melodramatic, and perhaps to some degree it is there, but if so it is overcome by the utter honesty and reality in which the feelings are presented. Perhaps I’m beginning to repeat myself, but I can’t think of a clearer way to say it. It is easily the strongest part of the story, and it is done very, very well.
That said, this honesty makes pretty much every character a little thorny. It’s hard to decide if you would rather provide them support, and a comforting shoulder or hug, or if you would rather avoid these people like the plague. Cass is relatable, and she is justifiably hurt by what has been done to her, but she’s also spiteful and vengeful, willing to hurt or ruin people. Tim is a heavy drinker who delves heavily into depression. Again, it’s all understandable and relatable, but it makes him harder to outright love.
This is good characterization, people, no bones about it. There is, as far as I can think, only one character that is two dimensional and that may very well be because he gets about ten minutes of screen time, and a handful of passing mentions. Any character that the reader sees for any amount of time is generally given some depth with complex emotions and motivations.
This is excellent writing, and the novel is stronger for it, taking it well out of Twilight’s Fun-But-Fluff territory. However, this also makes it a lot more uncomfortable for the reader. This isn’t a book to pick up for light reading. There is a lot of pain in this book and almost no romance or comedy.
That said there are a few issues I have with the novel. There are some character that feel like they should be more important to the story but aren’t. There are many interesting characters that serve for setting and plot but don’t get any real screen time. There is a certain degree of resolution at the end of the story, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Perhaps this is just leaving it open for a sequel? Oh, and once or twice I felt that a part of the book was being a tad too strong with either exhibition or monologue. This was a fairly rare occasion for me.
These issues all largely come down to one thing, though: there’s not enough. In many ways this is a good thing. It is a mark of a good book when the reader wants more. However, the book toes the line between “wanting more” and lacking. I think back on the book now and I have many emotional ties to the characters in it, and I have the images of the characters in my mind, but aside from that little else sticks. It makes me wonder what the book’s staying power will be like. Very likely, half a year down the road, I’ll see this book in my library and I’ll still remember the emotions and melancholy clearly, but not remember a thing that happened.
Don’t let that stop you though. This is really an excellent book. It shows what can be done, what subjects can be tackled, and what depths can be plumbed in genres too often filled with Fun-Butt-Fluff writing. If you’re willing to read something serious, honest, and a little uncomfortable, then you’ll find a real gem in “Give up the Ghost.”
Final Grade: 8.5/10