!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!SPOILERS!!!!YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE ANYWAY!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!
"The fact that most of the main characters in this book . . . are teenagers shouldn't deceive us into thinking this is a 'young adult novel'"(p.174), says S.T. Joshi in the Afterword of my copy. Don't believe it. The resolution here is far more heartfelt toward the non-supernatural elements, and, since our 1P protagonist is 14-years old, this means un-ghostly, close family and friend relationships, especially focusing on the father-son conflict that is almost inevitable in every family of the nuclear age. Authority. Respect. Loyalty. Acceptance. Confidence. Love. These are the bridges crossed in this short novel. The paranormal is the stickum that seals these plot paths together.
On a juvenile sneak-out, Mikey and his 2 friends—Will and Nick—start out smoking refer in the maintenance shack of the local graveyard, which Mickey's father is the groundskeeper. When Mikey—rather than trippin'—finds himself crying, he immediately premiers the main, emotional plot point: his father has been fired from teaching English over letting his students read his in-progress, racy manuscript, and Mr. Fitzsimmons has taken the only job he can find as a gravedigger. As the irony of this drips in or flows by, Mikey gets back in present time by suggesting a "fear-fest"(p.13) to his buddies.
Alice Arthur was a young girl who drowned recently and is now interred in the cemetery's mausoleum. Mysterious circumstances, surely, but the truth has been multi-coated with rumors and bizarre stories, naturally focusing on un-realities. Apparently, her unnatural, ghostly rising caused the death of the last graveyard caretaker, whose final words were:
So, it's dark night visitation hours. It goes about how you'd expect with three stoned boneheads looking to stir some adrenaline. But with the exception of Mikey, who takes her crumbling hand in his and makes a quick speech only a necrophiliac could love:
It doesn't take long to work up a resounding NO! to that wondering. Especially after some disappearing writing marks Mikey's pillow. After "sparkling eyes"(p.55) stalks him in the school library. After he gets to be a field mouse named Chi that's been stuffed in his sneaker; or, a junco named La flying around his dreams and ending dead on his pillow; or, while listening to The Who's Tommy, Alice visits him in his room and tosses a dead raccoon named Spratz on his bed; or, on the morning school bus, Mikey gets "the zoo version that seemed to explode all around me like some safari ride gone haywire"(p.96) with more dead animal hallucinations. Natch, he's gotta go back to the graveyard and straighten things out.
It is YA all the way once you realize the main theme that squirts over this read like a giant tube of Clearasil. Abandonment. Alice—or the demon that's running her—basically just wants someone exclusive to herself to hang with. And—talk about solitude, alienation, and supressed anger—look at Mikey's world: Dad is non-communitive and nods off into his TV tray every night; Mom's into the chablis by noontime; his best buddies rightly boycott him for getting a boner over a bag of bones. Alice becomes his confidant, but her true voice seems strained through hemlock and mandrake root instead of genuine concern. There is no question Alice is a real ghost, just the purpose of her haunting. With Mikey, it's simplier: he wants to be recognized, he wants to be suckled, he wants to be consecrated by loved ones, but "a supernatural stalker was more important at the moment"(p.73). Unfortunately, by the end, the symbolic level of this novel ravels its fictional display: Alice reveals her all-consumtive intentions as a deadly smothering in mothering, and Dad drops in like Houdini at a seance and hands Alice her detention slip to save his son with his own sacrificial demise.
I have nothing against YA. I'd just like to know a book's signpost before I travel on it. And yeah, Young Adult ain't down my road. I enjoy coming-of-age, just not this didacticism that's selling sheep's clothing as sheepskin.(1) I mean, consider the father's role. He digs his own grave by egotistically foisting his Penthouse-Forum—ish MS on young minds. He cites all the right reasons, but nevertheless, he ends up atoning by saving his son with his own death. They're selfishly similar anyway, and now Mikey can really bond with his dead dad just by touching his finger.
This is not a bad read; just a disappointing one. I admire some of the writing Kimberly from goodreads.com quoted in her 5-star review. I search out the traditional ghost story as favored, but in this one, the plot seemed fishy in a number of places; too forced and therefore comprimised by its themes and chosen genre.
1) My fellow readers disagree. Or, at least, 12 of them do.