For some 15 years, in my work with high school musicians, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with wonderful teenagers. I suppose some would consider that phrase an oxymoron, thinking there is nothing wonderful about those bundles of hormonal confusion and restlessness we call teenagers. But I beg to differ, for those that I traveled with along this particular musical path have offered me much in the way of love and loyalty, have inspired my spirit and warmed my heart with their insight, their vulnerability, their touching need for love and understanding. So it’s no surprise that I love reading Beth Kephart’s books about young people on the cusp of adulthood, confronting life’s dilemmas and fears and joys with equal measure of strength and courage.
Nothing But Ghosts, her latest book for young adults, is a finely wrought tale of 16 year old Katie and the summer afterher mother’s untimely death. The story involves a mysterious box of treasure, a stately home and garden, a deeply symbolic painting. It encompasses first love and first grief, as we watch Katie begin to understand some of life’s deepest lessons. And of course, the story is about ghosts…the wispy ghosts of memory, of forsaken pasts, of opportunities left behind. It is about the way people and opportunities can disappear in the wink of an eye.
Vanished. Things disappear and vanish. That’s the fact. Before you’re ready for them to go, they go, and after that all you can do is keep the idea of them bright inside yourself.
That’s a powerful realization for a young woman to learn, and even more powerful to convey. Reading young adult fiction, especially fiction like this which portrays such fully realized characters, reminds us that young people have deeply held feelings and thoughts about life, feelings they often have no idea how to process or express. As adults, we sometimes downplay the emotional life of teenagers, assuming that they’re too self-centered or immature to plumb the emotional depths. But that just isn’t so – as Katie so clearly demonstrates in her loyalty to her father, and her keen interest in the personal mystery that she digs up in this glorious garden.
Nothing But Ghosts is poignant and lyrical, evoking tears and smiles on every page. Reading it made me want to put my arms around all those wonderful teenagers I’m not able to see now that school is out for the summer. It makes me hope they are able to put to rest whatever ghosts haunt their lives, as Katie does, and learn to keep the idea of them bright inside themselves.
Now tell me, is there something or someone that has vanished from your life, and is now an idea that you keep bright inside yourself?
~~Thanks to the generosity of Anna Lefler, I’m able to offer a copy of Nothing But Ghosts to one of you who leaves a comment here~winner will be chosen at random on Friday, July 17, 2009~~