Wooooo, look at me all reading and stuff!
I picked up Ruined: A Ghost Story, by Paula Morris, while working the Scholastic Book Fair in February. I bought it for The Kid, but being a fan of ghost stories myself, I gave it a whirl while she works on another book.
This was the Scholastic Book Fair, of course, so it's Young Adult Fiction or some such thing, but then so is Twilight and it doesn't seem to stop 40 year old women from wearing "Team Jacob" shirts, now does it!
Ruined is the story of Rebecca Brown, a 15 year old New Yorker who is unceremoniously shipped off to post-Katrina New Orleans to live with her adopted aunt while her widowed father heads off for a business trip in China.
Her aunt, a fortune teller said to be descended from a Voodoo queen, lives in a small and cluttered house across the street from Lafayette Cemetery. On that same street are some of the richest and most powerful families in New Orleans.
Rebecca has a tough time making friends with the rich kids, since they have a Roman-style hierarchy that is acknowledged and followed by everyone including adults and the authorities, but the handsome and powerful Anton Grey takes to her (despite his friends disapproval), and she does make one friend while exploring the cemetery one night... Lisette, the ghost of a young girl murdered 150 years before.
Rebecca gets drawn into Lisette's story and the mystery surrounding her death. In one particularly sad and creepy sequence, Rebecca takes Lisette's hand (which makes her able to see other ghosts, but not be seen by the living) and walks with her on her yearly 4-mile journey to her mother's house in one of the most flood-ravaged parts of the city. The city is full of the ghosts of people who haven't been able to move on because of an unsolved crime, or in some cases because they don't appear to know they're dead (one woman repeatedly asks if anyone has seen her baby). Though they can't really hurt anyone, they can be really terrifying because they still bear the sometimes gruesome wounds that killed tham and because, as Lisette puts it, if they were mean or crazy in life, they're still mean and crazy in death.
The story was well thought-out, although there seemed to be some quick jumps between sequences, and the ending was surprisingly abrupt (I wondered if her editor wanted to keep the page count to a maximum Young Adult Fiction standard of some sort), but the pace was still slow enough to draw out the admittedly teen-friendly suspense - I only say that because anyone who's read any kind of Gothic novel will guess the general way of things about halfway through, though it doesn't diminish the surprises that do pop up.
I really enjoyed the story in most part because of the imagery Morris puts into everything. As Publisher's Weekly put it in their reveiw, it's a "love letter to New Orleans". She describes Lafayette Cemetery in detail, the Garden District so completely that you can almost smell the bougainvillea, and a November afternoon in such detail that you can almost imagine the exact grey of the sky before the rain kicks in. She also put in a lot of detail about the behind-the-scenes workings of Mardi Gras, including how the "krewes" work, which I found really interesting; Mardi Gras is apparently an all-encompassing thing there, not unlike the week of the Tucson Rodeo where schools are closed and everyone gets into the act.
I also really liked, given the intended readers age group, that she included a lot of social commentary about race and class disputes in the area that still go on in nearly the same way they did nearly 200 years ago. She details the rich kids in the private school that have no interest in doing anything to help the Katrina-ravaged areas of the city (they'd rather they just disappear), as well as the history of the different black, white and mixed-race populations like Quadroons and the Free People of Color, and what their social situations were like. She offers the history in an engaging way, and it's enough information that I can see kids being interested enough to learn more, but she does it without being heavy-handed. It is a ghost story for young teens, after all, and meant to be entertaining.
If you've got a 12 year old or so who enjoys spooky stories, pick this one up for them...
Just don't do it at Amazon, because they're a bunch of jerks!