About one and a half chapters into Beth Kephart’s Nothing but Ghosts I started to get this tingly feeling. Honestly. I’m not kidding. I was standing on the corner on Saturday, waiting for a streetcar to come and reading Beth’s book and I actually stopped reading because I was aware of this tingly feeling. I took a second and stared off down the street and I realized, “Hey, I know this feeling. It’s the “wow this is going to be good” feeling.” Then I put my nose back down into my book and kept on reading. A couple days later and I’m practically still tingling. Nothing but Ghosts is that good. It’s about as beautiful as a book can be.
Since her mother’s death, Katie has been learning to live with this feeling that her mother is gone, but not gone. She can’t wrap her head or her heart around the fact that someone as vibrant as her mother can just vanish, could just be there and then not be there forever. She and her artist dad are trying to keep on living, and salvage something of their family. Katie takes a job working at a local garden estate. The owner of the estate hasn’t been seen for decades. It’s said that she shut herself away more than fifty years ago just after a violent storm ripped through town. Katie becomes fascinated by Miss Martine’s mysterious past, and when Ms. McDermott, the dazzling town librarian, offers Katie the chance to sift through a bunch of boxes of local lore that have recently come to the library, Katie thinks the boxes might get her closer to the real story behind the lost heiress. At the same time, Katie’s dad is working on restoring a strange dark painting that turns out to be linked to the estate mystery. Nothing but Ghosts follows Katie through one summer as she chases ghosts and memories, looking for a way to keep close to those who are gone and find some peace living with loss.
Beth writes characters tremendously well. By the end of chapter one, after only 9 pages, more has been revealed and suggested about Katie and her Dad than many authors could manage in entire novels. (I think that was about where the tingling started). Chapter one was so perfect that I read it a few times before heading on into the rest of the book. Just read how Beth describes Katie’s thoughts about her bike,
“My bike is the ten-speed, thin-wheeled kind, a perfect silver streak. If you were looking down on me and my bike from a cloud above, you’d think we were a zipper. That’s how fast we go, how straight down, all the way to Miss Martine’s.”
I love that. I will now look at speedy bikes and think silver zippers. Beth’s writing will change the way you look at bicycles and it will change the way you think about grieving. She writes,
“…maybe I don’t know how you put regret inside a painting, maybe I can’t figure out Miss Martine, maybe I can’t really save my dad from sadness, but maybe so much time goes by that you start to understand how beauty and sadness can both live in one place.”
I’ve read all of Beth Kephart’s books for Young Adults, and one of the highest compliments I can offer about them is that Beth writes about the quiet miracles of real life. She helps readers to see that ordinary experience, all of it – the trouble and sadness and simple day-to-day joy of it – is worth noticing. Some of my favourite parts in Nothing but Ghosts are the scenes where Katie is just hanging out with her dad, eating with him and doing dishes with him and talking to him. It’s the authenticity of the emotion, and the perfectly placed poetic details that make the story sing. I can’t think of a YA novel about loss that is more worth reading, and that I know I will want to read again, later on in my life.
And the cover? Don’t you think it is just right for a book about memories and vanishing and grief? Perfect. Here is a lovely behind the scenes cover story from Melissa at readergirlz.
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Nothing but Ghosts is published by Harper Teen (every gorgeous word).