Jul 8, 2009

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart

Katie is sixteen, and her mother has recently died. Ever since it happened she has been avoiding her friends. She’s spending her summer dividing the time between keeping her father company and working as one of the summer gardeners at a large estate. The estate belongs to Miss Martine, once a rich heiress and the talk of the town, but who suddenly disappeared from the public eye and hasn't left her house in several decades. Along with her friend Danny and with the help of Ms McDermott, the town librarian, Katie begins to investigate the mystery surrounding the estate. Her secret hope is that finding those answers will also help her answer with the questions she’s dealing with in her own life.

Nothing But Ghosts is such a lovely book. I’m so glad Amy’s book drive brought it to my attention; I might have missed it completely otherwise. Most of all, what I loved was the writing. Katie’s voice was perfect, and I loved how her grief, her puzzlement that someone who mattered so much to her could suddenly simply not be there anymore, was brilliantly suggested. The writing is subtle, and I find that particularly perfect in a story about grief and mourning, which are so difficult to articulate.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that the main focus of Nothing But Ghosts is solely Katie's her grief. There are flashbacks to the time before her mother passed, to their last summer together and the trip they took to Barcelona, to her cancer, but the mystery of Miss Martine’s life also takes central stage. Katie’s father, who restores old paintings, is given one that turns out to have to do with Miss Martine’s past, and everything is tied together very well. This almost makes it sound like the whole thing is forced, but believe me, it's not. And anyway, what really matters about the mystery is how it highlights everything Katie is going through, and that too works really well. It makes the story cleverer, more subtle, and it emphasizes all the strong emotions without making it too dramatic.

I’m not quite sure where Nothing But Ghosts is set—there might have been hints but, not being American, I missed them—but the atmosphere strongly reminded me of Southern Lit: the summer days, a small town, a few quirky characters. Actually, I was reminded of Faulkner’s fabulous story “A Rose for Emily”. Don’t worry, the mystery Katie uncovers is not as macabre as that, but… well, I really can’t say anymore. If you enjoyed that story, though, you are likely to enjoy this too.

The answers Katie eventually finds made me so sad for everyone involved. But it's fitting that it's a story about loss and sorrow and missed chances that prompts Katie and her father to fully return to the world of the living. The ending of Nothing But Ghosts was tender, gentle and bittersweet, and so it perfectly fit the rest of the book.

Bits I particularly liked:
You can’t be as alive as Mom was, and then be dead. You can’t be singing so that your voice fills every room in a hand-me-down house, and then not be heard at all. The math doesn’t work. I went kind of crazy with the wrongness of it for a while, and then Dad and I talked and he said he know no cure, the only thing he knew was the power of staying busy.

Everything looks like caution afterward, everything inside me feels old and used and cracked, and people say, “Oh Katie, you’ve handled your mother’s passing so well,” and I think, Handled. Handled? I’m barely breathing, can’t you tell?

Other Opinions:
My Friend Amy
Presenting Lenore
Em’s Bookshelf
Kid Lit
Charlotte's Library
From My Bookshelf
The Compulsive Reader
Care's Online Bookclub
Life in the Thumb
The Zen Leaf

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. You know, I saw the book drive, but as I hadn't read any reviews by people I know, I was relunctant to buy the book. Now, I'm thinking I should. I love that last line you quoted.

  2. I had never heard of this book, but it looks really interesting. I'll be picking it up. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  3. I've seen this book around, but your review really makes it sound like something I'd enjoy.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  4. I'm putting this on my TBR list. Great review! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I've been on the lookout for small town Southern novels. By chance, is it more Southern Gothic?

  5. I bought this because of Amy's book drive, too, but haven't read it yet. I should be getting to it soon, though.

  6. Oh my. This sounds so utterly lovely. I've certainly seen the title floating around lately, but yours is the first review I've read. And the only review I need to convince me that I really do need to buy this book. You know, in a way it actually reminds me of The Garden of Eve, which I just read. Except that it's a kids' book. And it's a fantasy. But still. This line, "But it's fitting that it's a story about loss and sorrow and missed chances that prompts Katie and her father to fully return to the world of the living."...if I changed the name to Eve, I swear I could use it in my review of The Garden of Eve.
    Such a beautiful review, Nymeth.

  7. Great review, Nymeth! I also bought this through Amy's book drive and you've made me look forward to it even more than I already was. I particularly love your choice of quotes; this is my first Kephart book and I'm glad to see that she's such a beautiful writer. And true to life - that second quote is a perfect summation of my experience with grief, if you replace mother with brother.

  8. I love those passages as well! It also seemed to be to be set in the south.

  9. You read this one quick! Sounds great..Can't wait to read my own copy. I love a good bittersweet, dealing with death story every now and then ;) Those are some of my favorites!

  10. I am so envious. This was on my Friday Finds the other week and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

  11. This sounds like a touchingly sentimental read. I think I would enjoy it and will be looking out for it. Too bad I missed the book drive!

  12. Things mean a lot. Yes. And so does this review. I thank you.

  13. I so very nearly bought this one as part of the drive, but I wasn't convinced 'd enjoy it enough to buy a copy, I've read enough reviews now though that I might just be tempted!

  14. Great review. This book is on my tbr list. The last quote you used is so true. You may look ok on the outside while the inside is screaming.

  15. Lovely review, Nymeth! This book is already on my wishlist after reading Amy's post.

  16. This is another one into my wishlist. Great stuff, Ana!

  17. I missed the "official" launch (learned of it through Becca's Bookstack), but did get to listen to the author read a passage from this book. It is so lovely. Definitely transcends the YA label, so I will be hunting for it. Your review is wonderful, and "A Rose for Emily" is one of my favorite Faulkner stories!

  18. Great review and I love the passages you quoted. Again, I'm relieved you liked it. :)

  19. I just picked this one up from the library and after I read it I'm going to buy a copy for my nieces birthday. I love Kephart!!

  20. this sounds beautiful, and I'd never heard of it before, thanks! I'm going to go check out Amy's book drive now... :-)

  21. Oops! I meant to order this when I splurged the other day. Darn. They are already shipping, too, so too late to add one in. I refuse to pay shipping...

  22. Amanda: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Mari: I look forward to your review :)

    Kiirstin: You're most welcome!

    Anna: I'm happy to hear it :D

    TY: I think it'd need to be a bit darker to qualify as Southern Gothic, but it does have that haunted mood.

    Bermudaonion: Enjoy it!

    Debi: Great, now I'm dying to read The Garden of Eve before even seeing your review :P

    Care, thank you!

    Meghan: Yes, her writing is really beautiful. And I'm so sorry for your loss :(

    Lenore: I'm glad I wasn't the only one to think so!

    Chris: It's a very quick read! It took me like two hours total. I think you'll really enjoy it too.

    Scrap Girl: I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

  23. Zibilee: You didn't! Amy prolonged the deadline until the 24th :)

    Beth: Thank you for writing such a beautiful book :)

    Bart: Do it! You know you want to :P

    Dar: Yeah...I think people say things like "you are being so strong/handling it so well" out of lack of anything else to say. I don't blame anyone for saying it, but it's never true, is it?

    Melody and Alice: I think you'll both enjoy this :)

    ds: I find that that's the case with all my favourite YA books: they definitely appeal to adult readers as well. And you know, I'd say "one of mine too", except it's the only one I've read! I really should amend that.

    Amy: I wouldn't blame you if I hadn't, but I was happy that I liked it so much too!

    Staci: I really want to read Undercover now!

    Joanna: There's still time to participate, and to make things easier for us Europeans the book depository has it :D

    Kailana: Aw, that's too bad. And yeah, I hate insane shipping costs!

  24. You make it sound so good, Nymeth! I admit that the book didn't really sound like something I would like and so I didn't participate in the drive. You almost have me convinced. :-)

  25. Wonderful review! This sounds so good, can't wait to read it.

  26. I just watched Chris' vblog and he mentioned this but didn't say what it was about. Thanks for reviewing it as it sounds interesting.


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