Title: Give Up The Ghost
Author: Megan Crewe
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Publishing Date: Sep 15, 2009
Hardcover: 256 pages
Stand alone or series: Seems to be a stand alone (but there’s room for a sequel).
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody…and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.
But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.
As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad—and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance….
Why did we read the book: The book was already on our wish lists, and when the author offered an ARC, we were more than happy to accept!
Thea: When I finished Give up the Ghost, I found myself at a loss at how to write this review. It’s a deceptively simple story, a sliver of the life of a teenage girl struggling with her own improbable powers and her feelings of anger and inadequacy. As Ana and I were exchanging emails about how we felt after finishing the book, I came to the realization that Cass’s story is meant to be simple – and I love that about this book. There’s no undying forevah love story, there’s no happy ever after ending where everything in her life is fixed again and she’s popular and whatever. Ms. Crewe writes a debut novel that is refreshingly free of sensationalism, and instead offers a quiet, simple story that is all the better because of it. This is one of those books where the more I think about it, the more I like it.
Ana: One of the things I love the most about doing these joint reviews is the opportunity that we have to discuss a book as soon as I finish reading it when the story is still fresh in my mind. In the case of Give Up the Ghost it helped me understanding the impression I had whilst reading it: that of the simplicity of the story. I really enjoyed reading Give Up the Ghost from page one for the very subdued, simple nature of the story. Instead of a book with a protagonist that worries about a possible lifetime Mission or about a love that needs to be forever, I got a story that was a nothing more than a glimpse into the life of a girl who can communicate with ghosts better than with living people. It is simple (without being simplistic) yet original enough (more on that later) to make this a solid debut.
On the plot:
Thea: As I’ve said above, Give up the Ghost is a fairly simple, straightforward story. Cass McKenna can see ghosts – ever since the death of her older sister Paige four years back, she has been able to see and speak with those who stay behind on the mortal plane…and understandably, this causes her some social problems at school. Once a popular kid with her beautiful best friend Danielle in middle school, Cass has become a surly, antisocial teenager that prefers to speak only to the ghosts at her high school rather than the human “breathers” that populate its halls. And with the ghosts’ help, Cass develops a reputation – when she overhears one ghost complaining about a cruel prank, Cass decides to step in, and from there her trade in the secrets and dirty deeds of others has grown until Cass herself becomes something of a creepy legend. She also has her own agenda, to bring down the popular kids, especially her former best friend Danielle. But when one of the popular kids she despises comes to Cass for help and guesses at the secret of her witch-like psychic powers, Cass decides to help him out, and ends up helping herself out in the process.
On the surface, Give up the Ghost is a very straightforward story without much flair…but that’s all part of its charm, in my opinion. What I enjoyed the most about this story is how very realistic Cass’s tale felt. Despite being a supernatural story about a girl that can speak with ghosts, this is truly a book about a teenage girl struggling to find her place in a messy world – and she doesn’t even realize what she wants or how she feels until she meets Tim and reluctantly agrees to help him talk to his dead mother. Cass’s high school rang true as a place where kids sometimes do what they want without regard for others, all in an attempt to fit in – but it also shows the lighter side too, for example, when Cass finally decides to make an effort and step out of her comfort zone by the end of the book. Though the title, kitschy book summary and Cass’s powers suggest it, this isn’t really a book about ghosts. It’s a journey of a teenage girl as she comes to terms with her past, with her family and old enemies, and how she begins to gather the strength to be herself, a good friend, a daughter, and a person who cares about something.
I guess the major complaint with the novel would be that it is rather subdued and straightforward. Even the writing is simplistic (though I did like Ms. Crewe’s little flourishes through Cass’s narration in the form of lists and observations), but I don’t see that as a bad thing. Not every book has to have mortal stakes and blood pounding action – and I really liked the quiet, emotional book that is Give up the Ghost.
Ana:I am forever fascinated with the American High School dynamics with its cliques and social divide. This reality is not only completely different from my own High School experience (seriously, best time of my life) but also alien to the Brazilian school system as a whole (as far as I know, of course). Give up the Ghost takes place in one of those High Schools and the most original thing to me was the set up: the bullied girl who is not a victim and decides to fight back on her own terms and avenge herself. There is no knight in shining armour to come and elevate her in the eyes of the popular kids, for example.
Her plan is very simple: she talks with ghosts; ghosts hear everything because really what else do they have to do? ; then dish out all the gossip to Cass. The things she learns reassure her that everybody in school is a back-stabber poser and that she is more than right to uncover their lies. This book is all about facades and perhaps Cass’ is the greatest poser of them all – pretending to not care when she really does but the coin only drops when she starts to help the popular guy, Tim with his own grief.
This book is not about finding out why Cass speaks to ghosts or what is her “Mission” or whatever. Cass ‘s ability to speak with and to see ghosts is a given and there is no attempt to explain it and make it more important than it should be.
In some points, that became a small problem for me as I am used to and wished for, more gravitas. I wished for more consequence for her actions. Like, an exploration about Cass’ responsibility for the lives she touched. But then again, this is not really the point of the story: there is no “greater good” and no one here plays Uncle Ben and say that with “great power comes great responsibility”. This is something that Cass has to learn for herself and in the end I was wholly convinced that even though she would not become a super-hero , she would also no longer play the vigilante: not because of some underlying moral dilemma but because she faced her own past and overcame it , giving it the closure it needed. Simple and yet effective and whole lot more realistic.
On the characters:
Thea: There’s no doubt that Give up the Ghost is a character-driven story. This is Cass’s journey, and as a heroine she is raw, emotionally fragile, and so very real because of it. I loved that Cass isn’t flawless or even reliable as a narrator. She’s abrasive to others, but since we’re privy to her thoughts through her narration, we understand why she is so prickly and slow to trust anyone. And despite all her big talk of revenge and bringing out dirt that will destroy the kids she hates so much, she isn’t a venomous person – rather, she’s hurt and trying to make herself strong. Her vulnerability (though she’d never admit that she’s vulnerable or lonely) makes her such an endearing character, and makes her easier to like and relate to despite her outwardly harsh attitude.
Then, there’s Tim. We don’t know as much about him as we only see him through Cass’s eyes, but it is painfully clear that Tim has some really big problems. After the death of his mother the prior year, Tim – popular, attractive, student council VP – has spiraled downward. He skips classes, drinks heavily, and is desperate for any help that Cass can give him. I loved that Ms. Crewe does NOT go the romantic route between these two characters, each with their own issues, though it would have been an easy copout. These are two kids that have some serious, deep-rooted problems and by the end of the book it isn’t all happy happy sunshine – they still have a ways to go. But they are both trying and growing as characters, and that’s more than enough for me.
The other character I really liked was Cass’s mother, even though she’s only in the book for a few chapters. The relationship between Cass and her mom is a volatile one and had the most emotional impact on me while I was reading this book. It’s very realistic, very raw, and I really give kudos to Ms. Crewe.
Ana:Yes, Give Up the Ghost is most certainly not a plot-driven novel but more of a character piece and of course that is the reason why it resonated so much with me.
This is Cass’ journey in which she departs from her need to defend herself and from being lonely and apart to deciding to finally become integrated with her surroundings – be it with her family or her friends.
The fact is, Cass begins the book angry and bitter. And with good reason: she is a girl who survived the worst sort of bullying which was committed by someone she trusted and loved. Her reputation was in tatters and she is basically invisible to the popular kids and to everyone one else. Then it becomes clear that there is so much more about her. First of all, that is the clear, sad fact that Cass is also to blame for her loneliness and aloofness. The facts behind her bullying took place over 4 years prior to the book opening and yet she has made no effort to finding new friends. She doesn’t even try. Being burnt once by her BFF did not make Cass a very trustful person.
Behind her anger and bitterness, there is really a lonely girl whose only friend is her dead sister, Paige, the first ghost she ever saw, who drowned on the night of her graduation and now lives in their parent’s house and ONLY Cass is able to see her and talk to her. There is real grief and guilt here – and the part where Cass thinks about how she used to fight with her sister and hoped she would one day disappear and when she does and comes back she thinks to herself as any child would, “I DID THIS” , it nearly made me cry. The sisters’ relationship made the book for me to be honest: it was sad and poignant and so very real. It reminded of my relationship with my own sister, all the good and bad parts.
I loved how Cass constantly examined her relationship with people – how they evolved, be it with her sister or her mother and eventually the one with Tim. I have to echo Thea’s thoughts here: I am so grateful that their relationship did not go the romantic way and Tim wasn’t OMG HAWT. He was just a regular, even if popular, guy who had real, shitty problems. I loved the progression of their friendship and how it truly engaged them both in exchange – it was a two-way road in which BOTH gained a lot from being with each other. Especially how Cass tried really hard to overcome her trust issues so that she could help him. Pretty good stuff.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: I really liked Give up the Ghost – even more now upon reflection than when I first finished the book. I liked its simplicity and its rawness, its emotional appeal and its frankness. This slim novel is deceptively strong and thought-provoking, and I cannot wait to read more from this talented new author. Definitely recommended.
Ana:A character-driven piece which truly resonated with me, emotionally, of one girl’s journey from being an aloof vigilante to finally opening up for possibilities. This is the sort of book I LOVE to read. Highly recommended.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From Chapter 1:
You would think it’d be easy to get along with a person after she’s dead. Not Paige. She took her big sister duties very seriously. It’d been four years since she drowned, and she still got on my case.
“You’re not really wearing those to school,” she said, perched in the air just above the wrought-iron headboard of my bed, her ankles crossed and tipped to the side. It was the way she used to sit at the dinner table, way back when–pretending to be hooked on Dad’s every word while her mind wandered off to choicer topics. Except these days she did it without a chair.
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked, zipping up my jeans. She was wearing jeans, too. Of course, her jeans were tight, low cut capris. Mine were big and baggy. I’d stepped on the hems so many times they were as thready as my violet carpet, but hey, they were comfortable.
Paige wrinkled her pert nose and shook her head. Very few things got her as worked up as my untapped fashion potential. Most of the time she had this faded tissue-paper look, so filmy I could see right through her. Get her interested, though, and she brightened up like a Chinese lantern. Right then, she was beaming from her bleached-blond hair to her strappy sandals.
A few years ago it would have pissed me off. These days, I was used to it. It was like a game: how bossy could she get, how bratty could I get. Playing at being normal.
You can read the full excerpt online at the book’s website HERE.
Additional Thoughts: The title Give up the Ghost is a clever, very fitting one, as it also happens to be an idiom which means “to die” or “to stop working.” In Cass’s case, it perhaps holds a deeper significance of something else she has to give up…
For more on Give up the Ghost, make sure to check out Megan Crewe’s blog.
Thea: 7 – Very Good
Ana:7 – Very Good
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