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I Was Walking With a Ghost (Three, Actually)

A review of Katie Williams' enthralling ghost story Absent, in which Mandy draws some eerie parallels to MTV's Awkward. Also: lots of Swayze.

I Was Walking With a Ghost (Three, Actually)

BOOK REPORT for Absent by Katie Williams

Cover Story: Poignantly Covertastic
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 2...ish?
Talky Talk: Beautifully Right On
Bonus Factor: Ghost Physics, Ghost Possession, Tasty Business
Relationship Status: The Sam Wheat To My Oda Mae Brown

Cover Story: Poignantly Covertastic

Does Katie Williams have the best covers or what!? Her first one was a beaut and this one is no different. Best of all, it means something! A something that took me far too long to realize, but once I did, I appreciated the cover even MORE.

The Deal:

Paige Wheeler is dead. OK end of story, byeeeeee...

All right, so what actually happens is that Paige dies by accidentally falling off the roof of her high school. And now she's a ghost bound to the school grounds, along with Evan and Brooke, other students who have also died at the school.*

*Note to self: don't go to that school. Because, y'know, being a creepy grownup who already has a high school diploma isn't enough of a deterrent.

Back in the land of the living, someone is spreading rumours that Paige's death was no accident; people are saying -- and worse, believing -- that she committed suicide. Paige has no choice but to suffer the slander -- that is, until she discovers how to possess the living. By controlling her classmates, Paige tries to control the narrative... while having a bit of fun, too.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Personality wise, Paige is a girl after my own sarcastic cantankerous heart. Sure, she's a bit dour, but girlfriend did die (although she was a grouch in life, too). But she's a good friend, and I'd LOVE to third wheel her and her BFF Usha.* We could be a merry trio of outcasts, bestowing nicknames upon all the cliques in school. And maybe Usha and I can tag-team to get Paige to open up and stop masking her true feelings behind a veneer of aloofness. Don't let pride stop you from FEELING ALL THE FEELS, Paige! At least you're dead, so you don't have to contend with black mascara tears.

*Err, back when Paige was alive, I mean. FYA does not endorse befriending corpses.

My only gripe about Paige is that she's way too concerned about how people think she died, since she can't really do anything about it. But then I remember that she's dead and literally has nothing better to do. Though when she IS able to do something about it, I can't fault her obsession too much since suicide is a helluva rumour to fake.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2...ish?

After Paige dies, she's still hung up on her secret ex-boyfriend Lucas. And do y'all know what kind of tree I hate? PINE.* Esp. since GIRL, YOU'RE DEAD. I know you're still a teenager, but have a little foresight PLEASE.

*That's a boldfaced lie. I live in conifer country, and pine is most agreeable when preceded by Chris.

And then there's Wes Nolan, who so very nearly earned this book a Mysterious Loner Dude bonus factor. It's not that Wes isn't mysterious nor a loner (nor a dude), but he harboured quite the unrequited crush on Paige back when she was corporeal. Being crushed on from afar by an MLD? you might ask. What's not to like?! While this may have been a heavy-rotation fantasy for some of y'all, there isn't enough pre-existing basis for it to be believeable for me.

Howevs, Wes Nolan* does interact with Paige-Possessees, and there are some sweet moments and glimpses of what could have been. But again -- I couldn't fully invest in this budding sort-of-relationship, due to all my mental shouting of "BUT SHE'S DEAD!".

*Yeah, he totally has use-the-full-name status. Sorry, Meredith Borders.

Talky Talk: Beautifully Right On

This could be its own bonus factor, because HOT DAYUM does Katie Williams have a way with words. Can she narrate my life for a day? 'Cause I'm sure she'd make even computer simulations aka my day job sound freaking gorgeous. Plus, her knack for stunning and creative imagery never feels inauthentic coming from the pensive Paige.

And on top of the sundae of goodness that is Katie Williams' prose, I was completely engrossed in the story. That little touch of supernatural ghostliness left me completely clueless as to which way the story would go. But that didn't matter, 'cause going along for the ride itself was pretty sweet.

Bonus Factor: Ghost Physics

(What? Sound is physics.)

I'm not usually a fan of supernatural/paranormal YA or ghost books of any kind, but I found that Absent flat-out WERKED. Maybe because it's not so much a ghost story, but a story with a protagonist that happens to be a ghost.

But mostly, it's because the ghosts must abide by a special set of laws, much like we breathers have to obey gravity (yes -- even you, Commander Hadfield). And Williams has crafted such a carefully thought-out ghost world. I don't want to give away my favourite detail, but let's just say the students aren't the only ghosts at the school.

Bonus Factor: Ghost Possession

This gets its own bonus factor, because Williams addresses the, um, logistics of Paige possessing guys. LOL. And I'm immature.

Bonus Factor: Tasty Business

Along with Paige's possessions come her rediscovery of FOOD. I've never considered potato chips as particularly beautiful*, but that's what Williams' words will do to you.

*Not even ones that look like faces, or cans of Pringles that I'd happily demolish in one sitting. Actually, the latter would be the polar opposite of beautiful.

Casting Call:

Ashley Rickards as Paige

We already know she can play a sarcastic smartass with a secret boyfriend. Plus she's got experience with the not-a-suicide-that-looks-like-a-suicide phenomenon.

Evan Peters as Evan

It's the name. And also the resumé. But mostly the name.

Jessica Lu as Brooke

The ONE TIME I finally remember that there are Asian actresses other than Ellen Wong in Hollywood, it looks like lazy casting. But this is a v. different dynamic than Jenna and Ming.

Teenage version of early-Office Mindy Kaling as Usha

As Paige's best friend Usha, I had a highly specific person in mind. Because who WOULDN'T want to be BFFs with her!?

Relationship Status: The Sam Wheat To My Oda Mae Brown

Once I got to know this book, I became so immersed in its story. Our relationship's not quite at the Unchained Melody level, but it can possess me anytime.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Chronicle Books. I received neither money nor froyo for this review (dammit!). Absent will be available May 21.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.