Book Review: Ghost Maven by Tony Lee Moral

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Ghost Maven is a Young Adult novel that tells the story of Alice Parker, a 16 year-old girl who falls for a boy who no one can recall seeing. It is an unconventional love story, heavy in magical realism.

Alice moves to Pacific Grove with her father and younger sister not long after their mother dies. Now living next to the ocean Alice takes kayaking classes in the bay to help her address her fear of water. She capsizes and is convinced she is about to drown when she is rescued by a young man, Henry Raphael. He delivers her safely to the beach – but no one else sees him. She wants to find him, and begins her search for him, when he appears before her again. Against all rules and warnings, their romance begins.

Moral has a great story, with twists and turns that keep the reader turning the pages. It is part love story, part thriller – hardly surprising given Moral’s previous work. The magical realism is a new diversion, which feels tightly stretched in places. The notion of a fourth plane, and ghosts residing in a kind of purgatory isn’t a new idea, but Alice’s role in it perhaps is. It’s clever.

The story overall was enjoyable – well-developed, with good pace and a gripping resolution. The devil is in the detail, with some very clunky passages, neither moving character or plot forward. Also occasional switches in to other viewpoints, fleeting, but jolting. Young Adult fiction is not my bag, so perhaps the audience will be more forgiving.

What puzzled me, and grated at times, was the mysterious Henry Raphael. No one sees him at the beginning. Yet later in the novel, he conveniently takes form, and fights mere mortals. Perhaps this is what happens in magical realism, but it seemed convenient and divisive. Actually, I thought Moral had the dated quality of Henry captured well, in his voice, his style. It was a good contrast to the modern Alice (and her friends). Moral’s dialogue and ability to convey different voices is good; with the exception of the swash-buckling crew, who seemed caricature, pirate-like, who made me want to laugh, rather than appear as a frightening bunch of marauding ghosts. Less is more, at times.

The devil in the detail of the at sea escapades. Perhaps not helped because I’m a seasoned sailor.  A boat isn’t steered by a rudder (that’s under the water), but a tiller… And it doesn’t then become a wheel. Also, tides don’t move, the body of water, the sea does. The pull of the tide drives the movement. These details detracted me from this compelling story – and I was left feeling that the editing process let Moral down. After so much research, walking the paths around the bay, and conjuring a protagonist, ghosts and a floating island, the story deserved better.

I was given an advance copy in PDF in return for an honest review.

 

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