*Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. If you’d like to read my review policy, you can check it out right here.*
Joe wakes up from a deep sleep to see his family leave in a removals van. Where they’ve gone, he has no idea. Erin moves house and instantly feels at home in her new room. Even if it appears she isn’t the only one living in it. Bit by bit, Erin and Joe discover that they have somehow found a way across the ultimate divide – life and death. Bound by their backgrounds, a love of poetry and their growing feelings for each other, they are determined to find a way to be together.
Joe’s brother, Olly, never cared much for poetry. He was always too busy being king of the school – but that all changed when Joe died. And when an encounter in the school corridor brings him face to face with Erin, he realises how different things really are – including the kind of girl he falls for.
Two brothers. Two choices. Will Erin’s decision destroy her completely, or can she save herself before she is lost forever?
This is a story for anyone who has ever felt lonely. It’s a book for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t fit in, who desperately wants to find their place in the world. It’s a haunting story of love, loss and the will to move on and it’s packed with hope and characters that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
The story centres around Erin, who has just moved to a small seaside town with her parents and sister after a pretty rough few years. She’s struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem and crippling shyness, but things take a turn when they move into their new house and Erin realises her room is haunted. ‘Ghosts?!’ I hear you say. Yep, ghosts. However, this isn’t your usual tale of paranormal activity, because rather than an evil spirit that wants to possess you or a poltergeist that chucks your pants about, Erin’s room is inhabited by the ghost of lost, tangibly sad boy named Joe.
I picked my way slowly through the first few chapters while I finished off a couple of other reads, but once Kessler’s book had my full attention I devoured it within a matter of hours. Aside from the topic of death, which is central to the plot, Haunt Me also goes head to head with topics not limited to drug use, bullying, grief, mental health and suicide. Kessler handles them all in a forthright, but sensitive way without ever coming across as patronising. Whilst there are lots of great YA books that explore taboo topics, there also some that are so heavy-handed that I think they end up doing more harm than good. Whilst there are dark moments in Haunt Me, each traumatic event or difficult situation is edged with a silver lining, even if it’s fleeting. It’s a book that manages to balance light and dark and be truthful without spiralling into hopelessness. It’s a feat of pure skill to write a book about death that leaves you feeling hopeful, but that’s exactly what Kessler has done.
The prose was lovely, lovely, lovely. Both Erin and Joe are very introverted, artsy characters and they deal with the world and people around them by writing. Joe’s chapters especially read like a poem with short, staccato sentences and a kind of rhythmic feeling. These lyrical, often poignant passages lent themselves to the book particularly well, drawing me further into the story and closer to the characters. I wasn’t a huge fan of poetry at school, but it turns out I just need the right kind of poetry to fall in love.
The characters were instantly relatable, despite one of them being y’know…very dead. You can’t help rooting for Erin, who by all accounts is just a normal girl who is trying her best to get by. Kessler does a wonderful job of building up her relationship with Joe to a point where it becomes immaterial that he’s a ghost. The romance element could have come off as completely ludicrous or a bad rip-off of Ghost, but there’s enough development of both of the characters to make you root for the impossible. If I’m really going to pick holes, I would say that Joe and Erin are very similar. It’s a classic case of creating a love interest who is similar to your protagonist in every way. I don’t mind shared interests, because they’re essential for a connection, but there also needs to be a level of push and pull and differences within the relationship to stop it from becoming boring. People don’t need to be the same to fall in love.
Family is a key theme in this novel and Kessler does an especially good job of portraying realistic sibling relationships, which are some of the most testing, powerful and complex relationships many of us will ever have. If y’all have a brother or sister, you’ll know. One minute its dramatic Disney duets and the next you’re pulling each other’s hair out from the roots. Such is family. There are very few YA books that explore siblings in the kind of stark light that Haunt Me does and I commend the author for creating nuanced relationships that made me think about how much my own sister means to me.
I can’t say too much about this without this review becoming spoiler-central, but there is a love triangle. I saw it coming a mile off, but it didn’t dampen my investment or enjoyment in the slightest. I’m not one of these readers who has a particular issue with love triangles (I mean Jem/Tessa/Will come ON) as long as there’s good reason for them to exist within the plot. This one is handled very sensitively and I never felt like the author was forcing the pairings together or writing it in to add unnecessary angst to the story. The relationships created are there for a purpose and they bring all of the characters full circle, leaving you feeling satisfied with the resolution.
Despite a tentative start, Haunt Me quickly found its feet and the rest of the book flew by in a blur of sweet writing, lush characterisation and story full of forgiveness and new beginnings. It made me cry, it made me smile and it made me melt just a little bit. My main criticism would be that I read it way too fast.
- Author: Liz Kessler
- Publication Date: 6th October 2016
- Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
- Pages: 400
- Rating: 4.5/5
- In short: Hauntingly hopeful.