Review: GIVE UP THE GHOST by Megan Crewe

24Feb10

Title: Give Up the Ghost
Author: Megan Crewe
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Year Published: 2009

Recommended: Yes, with the usual caveats about YA. This is a very high-school-centric book, so if you’re not keen to return to those dingy halls, you probably want to skip it, but otherwise it’s a short, interesting read with a sense of humor but a serious handling of some difficult issues.

Spoilers: Yes, in fairly general terms, but specific enough that if you avoid spoilers religiously, you shouldn’t go beyond the first two paragraphs (after the jump).

This conversation (mostly) occurred yesterday:

Me: So I read this book today–
Caroline: FREAK
Me: –that’s about this girl who can talk to ghosts, so she uses them as spies to get blackmail material, because admit it, that’s what you do with powers like that.
Caroline: I’d use them to get peoples’ pin numbers.
Me: I’m glad that I’m your friend, and also that you can’t actual talk to ghosts.
Caroline: *looks mysterious*

Ahem. So, I think the premise of this novel is kind of brilliant, because I may be a bad person but I would totally use ghosts as spies. Granted, Cass has the excuse of revenge—her best friend turned on her in middle school, and Cass has been a social outcast ever since. Her blackmail is as much a defense mechanism as anything else, since it’s the one thing that gives her power over her tormentors.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect heading into this story. I knew two things about it: that it involved that basic premise, and that it didn’t involve a romance. I was somewhat surprised at how “quiet” this story was; the ghosts weren’t used to make any huge revelations or uncover any mysteries or scandals (at least, not that were essential to the story). Instead, they provided a backdrop to a story about death, grieving, and what it takes to move on.

Cass’ sister, Paige, is the first ghost she was able to see; she drowned on the night of her Junior Prom, and has been hanging around since. In Crewe’s world, ghosts aren’t good at remembering things that happen after they die, and Paige is stuck as a wounded, invisible girl who can’t ever truly come to terms with the fact that her family can’t see her or hear her. She’ll always be sixteen, and now Cass is growing up past her, having the experiences she never had. If there was a major flaw I found with Give up the Ghost, it was in this storyline, or rather, in its prominence. I found Paige’s story to be the most compelling thing in the book, in parallel with Cass’; both are isolated, “invisible” people in different ways. Cass has the ability to interact with the living but chooses to talk to the dead instead; Paige longs to be alive but is stuck with just Cass. I wished this storyline was given more focus, and I wished Paige was brought to “life” just a bit more: she bordered on the pathetic and whiny at times (and at others jumped right over the border and embraced it), which grated a bit more than I was willing to forgive. But at its heart, this was the most interesting and compelling relationship in the book—for me.

This is a fairly minor quibble, though, since the “A plot” was engaging as well. One of the most popular students at school, Tim, asks Cass to talk to his dead mother for him (after guessing or hoping at her secret). Tim is lost in his grief and endangering himself in the process, and Cass is drawn reluctantly into the beginnings of a friendship with him. Being in relationship with him means that she can’t just stand by and be her usual aloof self—she has to figure out how to help him, and act like a living person herself. Along the way, she muddles through some messy lessons about high school, life, revenge, and grudges, none of which are neatly wrapped in a bow; there’s no final showdown, no teary reconciliation, just the untidy interactions of real people. I appreciated that in this book, though in another it might have seemed unsatisfying. I don’t necessarily read for a reflection of reality, but I think “lessons learned” are often too clear and sweet and obvious in YA, so this was refreshing.

I had heard that some people were bothered by the fact that no romance developed between Tim and Cass, and I admit that at first it seemed a bit artificial to never even hint at that. But by the time I got to the end, I had decided that romance would be artificial: neither of them is in a place where they can think about falling in love. Tim is too lost in grief, and Cass is still trying to figure out how to be in any sort of relationship other than “bitter, seething enmity” with someone who’s still breathing.

So, in conclusion, I liked this book, even if I didn’t always feel completely satisfied with it. Crewe definitely has room to write sequels, and I’d certainly give them a shot, but I don’t think this is a book that needs a sequel or even necessarily should have one. It’s an interesting little book that inspires a lot of thought, and leaves questions unanswered, and I’d prefer it stay that way.

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