02 August 2009

Review: Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart


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
ISBN-13: 9780061667961
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 60
Rating A+

35 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks 8/2/09, 9:22 AM  

What beautiful writing! This sounds like a "must" read!

bermudaonion 8/2/09, 10:05 AM  

I loved this book, too. The writing is just fabulous and I loved Katie's character so much.

Sandy Nawrot 8/2/09, 10:08 AM  

Dreamy and lyrical is what that writing is. Really amazing stuff, especially from a YA novel! I'm wondering if my kids would even have the slight interest in this, and do you think it would be even appropriate for the tween ages? I might must have to get it for myself.

wisteria 8/2/09, 10:22 AM  

The plot sounds so fascinating and I love the writing. I added this to my wish list. Thanks for the great write-
up.

Wisteria

Dorte H 8/2/09, 10:40 AM  

This sounds wonderful!

Recently I heard about a blogger who wrote a negative review. Afterwards the writer threatened to sue him - because he had used too many & too long quotations in his review!

why is it that authors never threaten to sue us when we bring a lot of quotations because we love their stuff? ;)

Beth F 8/2/09, 10:46 AM  

Interesting question, Dorte.

In the United States, copyright law allows us to use quotations in reviews and scholarly work as part of fair use. There is, however, a limit to the number of words (or percentage of the total work) that is considered fair use. I didn't count my words, but 5 short quotations from a 260-page book is within fair-use rules.

wordlily 8/2/09, 10:49 AM  

Ah, it's so grand! I agree.

Dorte H 8/2/09, 11:06 AM  

I can´t imagine the blogger in question DID break the law - he just made it very clear that he didn´t like the book, and why. So my conclusion was that for negative reviews I´d better be very careful, and as I indicated, I cannot imagine anyone suing you over an enthusiastic recommendation.

Beth F 8/2/09, 11:11 AM  

Thanks, Dorte. Beth K, of course, wouldn't dream of suing regardless!

But I feel that if I stay in my rights, authors can say or threaten whatever they want! I totally understand the caution.

S. Krishna 8/2/09, 11:16 AM  

I enjoyed this book as well - can't wait to discuss it today!

stacybuckeye 8/2/09, 11:50 AM  

The writing is fantastic. I've added this to my list.

Melissa 8/2/09, 12:19 PM  

I really do need to get this book... Thanks for sharing all the quotes, they really show how wonderful the writing is. Great review!

Beth Kephart 8/2/09, 12:24 PM  

Oh gosh, Beth.

Thank you.

I am amazed by the passages you quoted, for I did spend so much time dwelling with those. It's as if you had seen all the drafts and then had chosen to dwell with those that I dwelled with.

Reviews like this reawaken a book for an author. I am so grateful.

And as for kindness—you are right about that, of course. Later, during the hour that I photographed these kids, the boy listened attentively as the girl taught him a new move, and he thanked her for it.

I should have noted that reciprocity and now I will.

Dar 8/2/09, 12:32 PM  

Beautiful review and quotes Beth. This novel is on my wishlist.

Amy 8/2/09, 12:58 PM  

I love so many passages of the you picked out!!!!! And I'm so glad you loved the book and Beth's writing!

Literary Feline 8/2/09, 1:08 PM  

From the passages you shared, the writing is beautiful. Thank you for your great review, Beth!

J.T. Oldfield 8/2/09, 1:29 PM  

I love it when I can open a book and find great quotes everywhere!

Nymeth 8/2/09, 2:11 PM  

I love the passages you picked. She really is an amazing writer!

Vivienne 8/2/09, 2:36 PM  

Definitely one I want to read.

Julie P. 8/2/09, 3:50 PM  

You know I share many of the same sentiments as you. This book is absolutely beautiful! I will be recommending it to everyone!

Meghan 8/2/09, 4:24 PM  

I agree with everything you said, and I loved the quotes you picked out! Great choices. This book is beautiful.

Lenore 8/2/09, 4:27 PM  

Agreed. You can pull out almost any passage and be struck by its beauty and wisdom.

Serena 8/2/09, 5:08 PM  

I keep hearing great things about this book...yet another reason for my tbr list to grow!

The Book Chook 8/2/09, 5:27 PM  

It IS wonderful (and rare!) to find a writer who balances lyrical prose with the art of creating a darn good story. Barbara Kingsolver is always the name that comes to mind for me.

kay - Infinite Shelf 8/2/09, 7:17 PM  

Sounds like a mix of a good story line with beautiful writing!

Jenners 8/2/09, 8:10 PM  

Wonderful review...makes me want to give YA another try.

Doret 8/2/09, 8:40 PM  

Reading this makes me want to read Nothing But Ghosts, again. It is a beautiful book

Melody 8/2/09, 9:10 PM  

I've heard a lot of raves about this book, so it's already onto my wishlist! :)

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books 8/2/09, 9:35 PM  

You did exactly what you set out to do - share wonderful excerpts of Beth's writing without giving away any details to those who haven't yet read NOTHING BUT GHOSTS.

So nice to see the author's comments on your post, too!

Margot 8/3/09, 8:14 AM  

Wonderful review. I have the book but haven't started it yet. This makes me want to move it to the top of the pile.

Heather 8/3/09, 10:29 AM  

"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."

Oh wow. This was already high on my to be read pile, but I think I'm going to have to push it up a little higher. It sounds amazing.

Veens 8/3/09, 8:43 PM  

That's some real good writing :-)
I am putting this one into my Wish-list. thank u Beth!

Belle 8/3/09, 9:50 PM  

Wow. The quotes from the book are just so beautifully written, and my dear Beth Fish Reads, so is your review. "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." and "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." Just beautiful.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading 8/4/09, 1:36 PM  

Her writing is beautiful! Yet another one to add to my WL.

Michelle 8/5/09, 10:48 AM  

I purchased this book as part of Amy's drive and have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy it. Thank you for the wonderful review, I hope to get to it in my TBR soon.

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