Instead of doing my own summary of the book, as is my wont, I am going to use the blurb from the back of Ghostgirl, since it tickled me enough for me to pick up and buy the book: Charlotte Usher wants to be popular. It's all she's ever wanted. And this year she has a plan to make sure it happens. But she's got her work cut out; the popular girls (and more importantly, Damen, object of Charlotte's desire) are completely oblivious to the fact that she even breathes the same air as them. She may as well be dead. So, she choked to death on a gummy bear. Admittedly it's not the most stylish way to die - but why should being dead get in the way of her plans? She'll just have to be a little more creative about achieving her goals..."
It was the gummy bear that got me - that fabulously dark and mordant sense of humour had me chuckling from the off, and I'm pleased to report that the book itself lives up to this. There were continual flashes of that same humour, such as: "A wave of post-mortem depression swept over her once again."
Not only this, but I appreciated some of the sly nods to modern pop culture. One that I am fairly sure the author intended (if she didn't, it was a fantastic coincidence) is where our narrator Charlotte refers to 'Nightmare on Hawthorne Street' - similar in a woodsy way to 'Nightmare on Elm Street'.
This book is like a lovely mash-up of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, and Beetlejuice with lashings of Buffy and Gossip Girl for good measure. The gothic tone permeates the entire novel, emphasised by chapter quotes from such diverse sources as Evanescence, Sylvia Plath and Johnny Rotten. The dialogue, however, is as witty and snarky as anything that Joss Whedon has penned, helping to make Charlotte and Scarlett both believable and entertaining.
Mention should also be made of the simply gorgeous book itself. Usually when I resort to discussing the cover of a book, it is because I have run out of decent things to say about the novel. With Ghostgirl it is quite the reverse - the cover, internal illustrations, colour palette and beautiful, kooky cartoon character adds a great deal to the reading experience. I would urge you to visit the Ghostgirl website where additional background and even merchandising is available - it is a complete brand, and a very cute one!
The story itself was diverting enough, although full of gentle cliches, but nothing that detracted too much from my enjoyment. When you are writing about high school these days, it is inevitable that a book will feel familiar, thanks to the many books and TV shows that offer up a perspective on the US school system.
I was never completely sure why Damen was so important to Charlotte, but I guess teenage infatuation just is and can't be questioned.
Lastly, I adored the really rather wise little snippets of commentary offered up at the start of each chapter. For example:
I love you, but I'm not in love with you. This is a false distinction. Completely backward if you think about it. Love is love. What's really meant by being "in love", is obsession, addiction, infatuation, but not actual love. Being "in love" is a statement of your own needs and desires rather than an attempt to fulfill another's. True love, on the other hand, is a bridge between two people. It had taken Charlotte most of her life, and all of her afterlife, to come to this realization."
Ghostgirl is a spiky, attitude-driven novel with a warm heart that invites you to care about the characters that tackle both life and afterlife with humour, spite and wit. All I can say is that I am enormously glad I already have the sequel so that I can read more immediately about Charlotte Usher. A delightful surprise.
RIP Sheri S. Tepper
7 hours ago