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Two ghost stories today, both more atmospheric than scary. We begin with the first adult novel from YA phenomenon Lauren Oliver. Before I Fall is one of my go-to recommendations, and was a huge hit with my high school bookgroup a couple years ago. And of course, there’s the Delirium trilogy, so I was quite looking forward to reading this one.
Rooms, releasing today, is certainly a more adult story. It is moody, contemplative, and full of rather unlikeable people. That said, it features a sympathetic teen character and it is a ghost story. Rooms may well appeal most to readers who enjoy a dysfunctional family story, because it is definitely that. Alcoholism, child abuse, neglect, divorce, it’s all there. The structure is intriguing (each section takes place in a different room of the house), as are the parallels that emerge between the lives of the Walkers and the former lives of the ghosts who observe them. Readers will genuinely want to know what happened to trap the ghosts in this particular house, and Oliver expertly keeps those answers a mystery until the very end.
Danica Novgorodoff‘s graphic novel, The Undertaking of Lily Chen brings together love, death, ghosts and gorgeous watercolors that evoke Chinese landscapes. Take a look at its striking official book trailer.
There seems to be some question as to whether this is adult or YA, but SLJ reviewing decided to place it as adult. (You might notice that the Printz blog has it on their longlist, so obviously this is still up in the air!)
OLIVER, Lauren. Rooms. 320p. Ecco. Sept. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062223197.
After Richard Walker dies (an awful man, everyone agrees), his ex-wife and two children return to the house in Coral River, New York that they had left years earlier. Alice and Sandra, the ghosts trapped within its walls, are shocked by how much they’ve changed. Last they saw Trenton he was a beautiful boy; now 16, he’s an “awkward, gummy, sullen thing.” Minna, 27, has a habit of using sex with strangers as a panacea, and their alcoholic mother, Caroline, has put on quite a few pounds. Each section of the book takes place in a different room of the house, and is comprised of short chapters, told in first person from the ghosts’ perspective (observing, reminiscing and bickering), and in third person for each of the family members. In the Basement, Trenton considers suicide after being humiliated at a party. Richard’s memorial takes place in the Living Room. The story is punctuated by visitors—a pretty neighbor confronts Trenton in the Greenhouse (and later accidentally sets fire to the Attic during a séance), a lawyer arrives bearing Richard’s surprising will, and a new ghost appears. The spirits provide the most intriguing mysteries. How did they die? Why are they trapped in this house? Too many vague descriptions of what it feels like to be a ghost and unlikable (if not unsympathetic) characters marr this first adult offering from a hugely popular YA author. Still, teens may enjoy the mysteries and the occasional flashes of comedic timing in this mixed-bag of a dysfunctional family/ghost story.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
NOVGORODOFF, Danica. The Undertaking of Lily Chen. illus. by author. 429p. First Second. Mar. 2014. pap. $29.99. ISBN 9781596435865. LC 2013030816.
“Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses….” With a small clipping pulled from a 2007 news story, graphic novelist Novgordoff grabs readers from page one. Readers learn about an ancient Chinese custom dictating that men must share their grave with a wife or risk a dark and lonely afterlife. Not only must Deshi bear the guilt of having killed his brother Wei, but Wei’s entire afterlife is in Deshi’s hands as now he must find Wei a dead wife by the end of the week. Thanks to high demand, the only corpse he can find is too old and rotten to do the trick. Fate seems to be on Deshi’s side when he meets beautiful, headstrong Lily who is on the run from her own arranged marriage, but turning her into a corpse bride turns out to be a bigger headache—and heartache—than he bargained for. Although the story is predictable, the plot takes a backseat to the illustrations—a spectacular homage to traditional Chinese watercolor paintings. With splashes of blue and gold, the art is clearly influenced by traditional paintings, but the characters themselves are modern. This juxtaposition is evident in the panels that uncover the roots of ghost marriages, while the alternating pages narrate the aftermath of Wei’s death. Teens will be able to sympathize with Deshi’s feelings of familial obligation, while also rooting for Lily, a fearless young girl who resists outmoded tradition. Hand this to those who appreciate skilled artwork or to any reader looking for adventure/romance.—Rachael Myers-Ricker, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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