Book Review: “Notes from Ghost Town”


Title: Notes from Ghost Town
Author: Kate Ellison
Genre: YA (Mystery/Supernatural Romance)
Publisher: Egmontusa
Pub Date: February 02, 2013
Hardcover: 327 pages.
Is There a Pooka In This Book?: Nope!
Pooka Rating: 3.75 out of 5 Nibbles


Welcome to the book review that almost never was.

A million little things screamed at me to put the book down. Take the cover, for instance. I strongly dislike it. Why is the top of the girl’s head cut off? And why does she look like she’s making out with herself in an effort to tease someone in her class for having a crush on a boy? I’m pretty sure right before the photo was taken she screamed, “OooOOoooooOOoo!” and that right after she started singing “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage!”


But let’s pretend for a second that I don’t judge books by their covers and open the text up.


Wait. Why is the font so big? It’s not a children’s book; the sexuality, language, and violence guarantee that. And it’s not a book for the elderly (the reference to Edward Scissorhands would go right over their beautiful blue heads). So why is it such an eyesore? It’s like a constant reminder that what I’m reading is not a self-respecting piece of adult literature. And I know that. I know that I’m reading Young Adult Paranormal Romance, but I’d appreciate it if I could pretend that the line between the two was a little thinner. Sometimes I’m even successful in convincing myself that it is. But it’s a difficult delusion to achieve when what I’m reading is basically written in bubble letters. The only way it could’ve been worse is if it were written in Comic Sans. Or if the letters with the dots over them had hearts or smiley faces instead of the standard superscript. The cover and font together make Notes from Ghost Town an incredibly embarrassing book to read in public.

And then there’s this awful thing that the author does when she’s talking about the unwillingness to let time march forward. She describes the desire to “press the freeze button” and literally writes, “Freeze” and “Unfreeze.” It’s so incredibly cheesy. And it all happens within the first three pages.

So why did I keep reading?

Two reasons.

One, I found the plot synopsis intriguing. Sixteen-year-old Olivia Tithe, home on break from art school, finally comes to the realization that she’s in love with her best friend, Lucas Stern. But when he kisses her, showing that he might feel the same way, Olivia’s world literally goes gray. She loses the ability to see color. This is concerning not only for her future as a painter, but also because her mother is a diagnosed Schizophrenic. Getting lost in “The Gray Space” is one of the early symptoms of onset. Olivia reacts poorly, Stern misinterprets her reaction and mumbles something about it being a mistake; then, a week later, before she has the chance to explain, Stern is found dead. Murdered. And her mother (his piano teacher) is accused of committing the crime. And Olivia can’t even grieve properly: to make matters worse, she’s begun to see Stern’s ghost. Could her visions be real, or is she just going crazy? Is it really possible that her mother, off her meds (which she admits to), killed her daughter’s first love – a boy who’d been like one of the family since age 4? I was struck by the combination of art, love, ghosts, and madness.

But the main reason I kept reading was because of a purple house named Oh, Susanna.

What Made the Book Totally Worth Eating:

1. Oh, Susanna.
When Stern was a little boy, when he first started taking music lessons with Olivia’s mom, he named their bright purple house “Oh Susanna” after the first song he learned how to play. When the book begins, at sixteen-years-old, he still whistles the tune whenever it comes into view. I love when houses are named. I love when houses are crazy colors (especially in a place like Florida, where it kind of makes sense). I even love the description of the inside of the house. It’s “full of African masks and ceramic dishes and sheet music and instruments and poetry and mismatched glass jars full of handpicked flowers” (180). I would live there in a heartbeat. It’s quirky and seems kind of magical: the perfect place for a Pooka.

2. Olivia’s style.
After becoming colorblind, getting dressed is a challenge for Olivia. Her solution is to ask her little sister to organize & label her closet, according to color, as a sort-of game. So when she gets dressed, she at least knows what hue she’s putting on. Here’s one example of an outfit: “I throw on a clean “blue” tank top that buttons up the front, a pair of suede “beige” shorts, a hoister-like belt with a ram’s head engraved on the buckle, [and] black doc martens with “pink” laces… The end result is that I probably look like a cowboy-clown-mechanic-stripper-mash-up. Which I’m fine with” (75). I’m fine with it, too. More than fine, actually. I think if I were a human and not covered in fur from ear-to-toe, I’d probably dress in a similar style. But I’d throw a cardigan over it. I do work in a library, after all, and librarians love cardigans (see: here and here).

3. The language.
Kate Ellison’s a great writer. Here’s just one example:
“Not one of us is immutable, or predictable, or immune to the chaos out of which the entire universe is spun. Chaos is what we are made of, and we will return to it, again, and again, and again. Our hearts will beat for it while our brains will search for order, and find that, almost always, it’s elusive” (309). That would’ve been pretty poetic if it weren’t written in bubble letters, right?

4. Lauren Oliver is thanked in the acknowledgements. 
Of course she is. I finished it, so pleased with the ending and with my reading experience that I didn’t want to put it down quite yet. So I read the acknowledgements. And then I read her name. One of my greatest literary girl crushes. Of course Lauren Oliver is thanked. Anything she puts her fingers on turns to gold. I bet her typewriter is 24 karat.

What I Spit Back Out:

1. The teen dialogue.
Maybe if I were a teen, the way that the characters interact with one another, verbally, would make the book feel more modern and real. But I’m not a teenager. I’m an adult. So I was just put off by the language and its raunchiness. I remember all of that coarseness and innuendo, and how it littered my speech, but it’s not a part of my life anymore. I can go a whole sentence without saying anything about my talking partner’s mom. Or insulting their face. So it just caused me to grimace and feel a little bit uncomfortable every time I read the word “twat” or “dickbag.” Want to see if it makes you recoil, too? Here’s a snippet (granted, it’s kind of funny, but it’s mostly awkward to read). The set-up is that Olivia’s at a party thrown by her dad, with all of his coworkers and their kids. She sees the son of one of those coworkers,who her best friend had …hm… how to put this tactfully… “gotten to know”:

“Bryce and Raina hooked up at a private school party a couple of months back. She called me the same night, wincing, saying he shoved his hands down her pants for about ten seconds, during which time Raina felt like a couch he was scouring for loose change. I turn my back to their table, pulling out my phone to text her: ‘Edward Crotchhands is here. He wants you to come visit’ ” (27). 

Ugh. So happy I’m not sixteen anymore. Looking for loose change??? Gross!

Also, it should be noted that there’s lots of drinking (Grey Goose is Olivia’s drink of choice), smoking, drug use (nothing substantial, just pot), and fooling around (described in fairly graphic, no-uncertain terms). So there’s that.

2. It should have ended a chapter before it did. 
The last line of Chapter Twenty-Seven is just perfect. Kate Ellison should’ve just stopped there. It’s nice to have mostly everything tied up in a neat little bow in Chapter Twenty-Eight, and to see where the characters’ futures might be headed, but Chapter Twenty-Seven could have ended in the right-now and it would have been a perfect, beautifully-described moment. Which is all I needed. Oh, well.

Notes from Ghost Town was a different kind of book for me. It was way closer to realistic fiction than I usually read. But I’m really glad I read it – and I want to recommend it to people who might connect even more closely with it than I did. I want teens who are actually coming-of-age to pick it up. I have a few people in mind (one of whom really needs to not tell her dad that I recommended it to her, because if she does, I’m toast. Like, really toast. ‘Cause her dad is my dad, too). I’m looking forward to seeing where Kate Ellison’s fun, twisted, eloquent mind takes her – and me – in the future. I’ll definitely read more. I just hope she finds a different Book Designer.

Pooka Rating: 3.75 out of 5 Nibbles.


About pookapicks

I'm a 20-something gal working in Children's Library Services. My likes include googly eyes, coffee, magical realism, leading Story Hours, and forcing my taste in books down people's throats. I have a pet rabbit named Moxie Crimefighter.
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One Response to Book Review: “Notes from Ghost Town”

  1. Pingback: Book Review #21: This Is What Happy Looks Like | The Pooka Picks

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