November 19, 2009


by Stephanie Crewe
256 pages, Henry Holt & Co. publisher

Review by Melissa Conway

The first sentence in this paranormal young adult novel (author Stephanie Crewe’s first book), is a classic attention-getter, the kind of first sentence every writer strives to produce.

“You would think it’d be easy to get along with a person after she’s dead.”

The next few sentences cinch it for the reader, succinctly telling her what she can expect from the story.

“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.”

The first chapter then goes on to set the emotional stage: a self-absorbed teen, Paige hadn’t wanted her little sister hanging around and so, at the time of her death, she and Cass were estranged. Now Cass is left with a distracted father, a distant mother, and has become a social pariah, the castoff ex-friend of the Most Popular Girl in School, Danielle.

Lucky she can see and converse with the two quirky ghosts that have been drifting around the high school for decades. They haunt the halls, filling Cass in on all the juicy gossip she can blackmail her peers with.

That’s where Give up the Ghost got my attention. “COOL,” I thought, imagining I was in for a rip-roaring and hilarious revenge ride. I would have enjoyed it so much more if Ghost’s early promise held out, but the laughs just didn’t come. Instead, the story takes an angsty turn, as Cass gets the goods on Danielle’s cheating boyfriend and finds little satisfaction (and no fun at all, darn it) in breaking the news.

When she’s confronted by Tim, student body vice president and resident turmoil-racked hottie, she attempts to use her ability to help him, but it’s a wet misfire at best. The story goes on to follow a well-written but obvious path to a, well, I won’t spoil it by spelling out whether the conclusion is happy or not.

The description of the ghosts—the way they brighten when excited, forget new things easily and have unique after-scents that only Cass can smell—is handled well. And the character portrait of Cass is highly believable as a barely-hygienic, prickly teen with a secret desire to fit in.

Author Crewe found a unique twist on an old premise that she handles well, confronting relevant teen issues such as popularity, grief at the loss of a loved one and alcoholism. I got over my disappointment that this story wasn’t the shallow comedy I expected, and enjoyed delving into the deeper issues Crewe explores.

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