ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley
Little, Brown 2008
Plot Summary: Charlotte Usher is an orphaned high school student. She is smart but determined to be popular. On the first day of school, she chokes on a gummy bear and dies. Charlotte comes to again in an alternate version of the school. Now, Charlotte must attend Dead Ed, a class that helps Charlotte and her undead peers move on to the next phase of the afterlife. Meanwhile, Charlotte is hung up on her unfinished business with a football player named Damien, so she starts trying to insert herself into the lives of the people she was interested in. Charlotte ends up befriending Petula’s sister Scarlet and embodies her to get close to Damien. Damien ends up falling in love with both of them because Charlotte is sometimes in Scarlet’s body and sometimes not. Back in Dead Ed, Charlotte must learn to not be selfish and help herself and her classmates move on to the next phase. Meanwhile, she, Damien and Scarlet have that whole love triangle thing to work out.
Critical Analysis: ghostgirl serves as an indictment of popularity. Petula's role is to be cruel to Charlotte. It is clear that Hurley has been through similar trite popularity contests and bullying and it seems that ghostgirl is a nudge to that, letting her readers know that she has been through it and it gets better later in life. It also shows that one should not look for popularity in a potential love: Damien was with Petula because she was a cheerleader, but ended up having more in common with Scarlet, a young lady who would be described more as "goth."
Unfortunately, ghostgirl drags in places and as either a positive or negative, it’s not a terribly challenging read. However, the characters well-developed and funny, most do not feel like high school archetypes unless they are supposed to be. Hurley provides enough characterization that some scenes even come off as touching.
ghostgirl deals somewhat with themes of loss and regret and the value of friendship and human interaction. It also deals with the realities that high school can be a cruel place if you don’t specifically fit into the idea of what’s socially acceptable.
ghostgirl's most respectable quality is its uniqueness. Many young adult books follow similar formulas, but ghostgirl stands out. The approach that Hurley takes is not what you typically see in YA fiction, the very premise of an undead girl with a love interest mixed with black humor is quite unique. The book itself is well-designed and inviting.
Reader’s Annotation: Charlotte Usher lusts after the man of her dreams. The only problem is, she’s dead!
Author Information: Besides being a published author, Hurley has written commercials, independent films, and has produced video games. Since ghostgirl was very music-focused novel, the audiobook versions of it feature original songs.
Genre: fantasy, humor, chick lit
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Booktalking Ideas: ghostgirl deals lightly with grief and loss. How did you think it was handled?
Other kids in the Dead Ed class died in different ways and got corresponding nicknames. Based on the characters in the book living and dead, is that a fair representation of personalities you encounter in high school?
Reading Level: Ages 12-16
Challenge Issues: N/A
Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.
Why I included this title: ghostgirl is light entertainment. It is quite unique, Hurley's vision is a not mainstream portrayal of high school. It is an outsider’s or outcast’s perspective of high school. It deals with real issues without being depressing, actually quite funny. Good for a reluctant reader because it is quick and easy, the book itself looks interesting.