What does it take to move out of limbo? Caught between the dead and the living, childhood and adulthood, old friends and new. Eight months after her mother died—too soon, too fast—sixteen-year-old Katie D'Amore finds herself working as a groundskeeper for Miss Martine, under the direction of Old Owen.
Jimmy D'Amore, her dad, still won't sleep upstairs, but he believes that keeping busy is the key to staying connected and moving on. A restorer of paintings by trade, Jimmy has taken on household master chef duties to fill the rest of his waking hours. Katie and Jimmy each worry about the other but not about themselves.
When a painting by John Butler Everlast, father of Miss Martine, arrives at the D'Amore house for restoration at the same time Old Owen announces that his boss wants them to build a gazebo in the gardens, father and daughter begin to pursue parallel mysteries. What does the dark painting mean? And why is it that no one has seen Miss Martine for more than fifty years?
It is impossible to express the strength of Nothing but Ghosts without resorting to clichés. Kephart has conveyed the power that love has to hurt when it is lost, to heal when it is found, and to leave one floundering when it is never tasted. Love and loss, happiness and sorrow, living and dying:
Find the fine line, [Mom] would say, and understand all that it separates. (p. 38)
It is at this fine line that we come to terms with what it means to continue to live past, through, and with personal sorrows. And sometimes it is in this fine line that we begin to understand that the past just is and that it's okay to look ahead and open the door to what lies beyond.
Although technically a YA novel, the beautiful writing style and deep themes of Nothing but Ghosts will have universal appeal. Kephart's novel can speak for itself.
Katie remembering her mother on their final family vacation:
She wanted to be by the sea at dusk—by the boats that bobbed on the back of the Mediterranean, and at midnight she wanted tapas, she wanted dancing, she wanted, but I only get it now, life. (p. 68)
Katie observing her fellow workers:
She moves like a wall with legs, swings her right side forward and then her left side forward, while Reny is more like a flamingo. The widest parts of his legs are his knees, which pluck up and down like someone's yanking at knee-maneuvering strings. (p. 73)
Katie before she falls asleep:
Maybe I can't figure out Miss Martine, maybe I can't really save my dad from sadness, but maybe so much time goes by that you start to understand how beauty and sadness can both live in one place. My eyes are heavy and the air is still hot. I may already be dreaming. (p. 154)
Finally, Katie waiting for the library to open:
I don't mind watching the clouds break and drift, and sometimes it looks like there are signals up high, and sometimes the sky is through-and-through blue, and it's really pretty out here in the morning, by myself, alone. Beauty and sadness. Rescue and escape. There's that line, I think, between what is and what has not happened yet. (p. 160)
As I was choosing samples of Kephart's writing, I realized that I could have turned to almost any page and would have found something beautiful, vivid, moving, or insightful to share. I picked these extracts carefully; I wanted to provide a sense of the prose without revealing anything that would detract from the unfolding of the story.
Beth Kephart has a lovely blog; consider adding it to your reader.
Note: all page numbers refer to the eBook edition as read on a Sony eReader
Published by HarperCollins, 2009
Challenges: 999, 100+