7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Preloved by Shirley Marr

Title: Preloved

Author: Shirley Marr

Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult

Publisher: Black Dog Books
Publication date: April 2012
Paperback: 272 pages

If you had a second chance at love, would you do it all over again?

Amy has enough to deal with for one lifetime. A superstitious Chinese mother. A best friend whose mood changes as dramatically as her hair colour. A reputation for being strange. The last thing she needs is to be haunted by someone only she can see.

Logan is a ghost from the Eighties. He could be dangerous. He’s certainly annoying.

He might also be Amy’s dream boy.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Review copy from the author

Why did I read this book: I love Contemporary YA and after reading and LOVING this author’s Fury I just knew I had to have her new book. When the author graciously offered to send me a copy I (un)graciously jumped at the opportunity and said yes.


I thought about Mum’s vintage shop. How she believed that if she found something broken and lovingly put it back together, that someone would come along and love it again.

16-year-old Chinese-Australian Amy Lee walks into her own story dressed up as The Princess Bride’ Buttercup and I love her already. It’s Eighties Theme Day at her school and as she makes her way there with her BFF Rebecca dressed as Kylie Minogue (and trying to avoid three Jason Donovans chasing Rebecca-Kylie), she stumbles into a vintage 80s locket with a picture of a boy inside. Even though she has grown up listening to her mother’s traditional sayings about Ghosts, she is not prepared for when Locket-boy shows up in his full ghostly glory. Logan is adrift: he has no memory of his last name or of what has happened to him (he obviously died very young) but he does remember his girlfriend Stacey who looks uncannily like Rebecca. Amy is certain that the locket was meant to be found by Rebecca but she becomes increasingly attached to Logan and they start to investigate his past in order to find out what happened to him. He might be the boy of her dreams. He might come from her past life. He might not be real.

The more I think about Preloved the more I find things to love about it. It does have a certain slapstick, lightly humorous tone to it that at first makes it seem fun yet superficial. BUT as the story progresses it becomes clear that this is a tale with hidden depths – just there waiting to be discovered by the reader. The investigation about Logan and how he might be connected with Amy and Rebecca is what might overtly drive the narrative but what makes it work and shine is Amy’s arc.

Is this the story of a Bad Romance because after all, Amy is irrevocably falling in love with a dead boy? Or is this Amy’s own ghostly story through and through? Is she haunted by Logan or is she haunted by her own past?

Amy is kind of a lost girl: literally and figuratively. She has been living on the shadow of her best friend Rebecca, trying to recover from her parent’s divorce, not very sure how to behave or how to assert her individuality. There is also a very interesting element of cultural dissonance as her extremely traditional Chinese mother teaches her lessons and keeps a distance that hurts Amy. At the same time, the mother is someone who dared break up with Amy’s father and start anew with a Vintage shop –their life is hard and sometimes they don’t even have money for dinner. The emotionally fraught yet loving relationship between the two is possibly my favourite thing about Preloved and its development is very touching.

At one point Logan begs Amy: “help me become whole again”. If one interprets Logan to be a construct of Amy’s subconscious mind (which is a very possible interpretation), then this request makes perfect sense. Especially since there is also a second thread that incorporates the idea of reincarnation that fits brilliantly with the overall theme (“preloved”) of the book. This, and not Logan’s ghost, is places the book firmly into supernatural territory although the supernatural thread is not one that overwhelms or overtakes the story.

Further to that, there are loads of small details that serve to enrich the story. Like Amy’s mom’s attachment to a stuffed owl. Or Amy’s relationship with her childhood friend Nancy. Or all the small snippets about ghosts, and of course, the 80s. The latter is in fact, an intrinsic part of the narrative. Not only on how Amy and her mother have a shared love for 80s movies and clothes and how Logan’s ghost is trapped in that decade but also in the very way that the story is written. Preloved is very cinematic: at times it feels like an Indie movie but most of all it reads like one of those 80s comedies ( I kept thinking of Mannequin for some reason).

That said, I did feel slightly put off at times by Amy’s thoughts about Rebecca, who was supposed to be her best friend. I thought Rebecca was unjustly demonised for her beauty but this is addressed by the narrative at least twice. Once when Nancy point-blank calls Amy on that. And then in the ending as Amy is taking toll of her life.

Another thing I loved about Preloved is how Amy is definitely a good person but one who also feels anger and petty jealousy. I tend to really love characters that are allowed to feel righteous anger – who are not asked to calm down, shut the fuck up or bottle it all up i.e. to play nice. Amy has reasons to be angry especially toward her dad – who disappeared from her life, leaving her and her mother all but penniless whilst he lives a rich life. I love this sentence:

I shook it off and kept walking, indignant, hoarding up all my black feelings and enjoying them one by one, like individually wrapped dark chocolates

I picked up Preloved because I loved this author’s previous book Fury. I was completely surprised by how the two stories are so completely different in terms of tone and narrative construction whilst still sharing similar themes (identity, friendship, loyalty).

And I really, really love how, just like Fury, Preloved has an open ending. I find that I appreciate this author’s ideas and stories although I don’t think they will suit everybody equally – especially Preloved with its zany feel (inconceivable as it is). But that’s the beauty of reading: you find an author whose work speaks to you and that’s it. Twue wuv ensues.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

Whenever my mum decided to give me advice, it often sounded like this:

“Amy, don’t bring an open umbrella into the house, because a ghost might be hiding under it.”

“Amy, don’t touch the sleep on a cat’s eyes and then touch your own eyes, because you will see ghosts.”

“Amy, never tweeze the hairs off the tops of your toes, or you will see ghosts.”

If only I had listened to Mum.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

Buy the Book:

Given how this is an Aussie book, there isn’t a lot of choice where you can buy it. Go HERE for more information.

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  • Linda W
    July 24, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Love the premise! Do you know if this is coming to the States anytime soon? I couldn’t find it on Amazon, unfortunately. ❓

  • Ana
    July 24, 2012 at 6:45 am

    Linda W – not as far as I know. You can check here http://www.shirleymarr.net/books/preloved.html for places where you can buy the book (FishPondAUS ships internationally free of charge)

  • Linda W
    July 24, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Awesome!! Thank you so much! I’ll order from there. 😀

  • Eliza
    July 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

    The hate that the awesomeness of Australian YA authors is not spread more fully here in the U.S. Why aren’t more of these wonderful authors published here? Why?!!

    So many of the elements of this book are right in my wheelhouse, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I may have to break down and violate my budget imposed only library books for a year rule and order this book.

  • Yeti
    July 24, 2012 at 10:19 am

    OOoh, one for me me thinks! 😀

  • Heidi
    July 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Fantastic review, Ana, I just read this one myself and I feel like you pretty much summed it up. My favorite aspect of the story was definitely Amy reconnecting with her mother and their heritage, though I certainly differed in my outlook on Rebecca. She seemed to me like a horrible friend placing Amy in a designated side-kick roll (even if Amy was happy with that), and over calculating about how she appeared to others. Very cinematic though, I agree, though I was thinking made for TV Disney movie, which I suppose is today’s equivalent to Mannequin. 😛

  • Katherine H
    July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I don’t know if you review graphic novels, but for some reason this reminded me of Anya’s Ghost, a book that looks absolutely fantastic…

  • Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    July 24, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I loved this one as well, and love that Shirley’s positioned herself as the “David Bowie of YA”–someone who’s constantly reinventing herself and her work. I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

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