Not Quite a Ghost by Anne Ursu

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In Not Quite a Ghost by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press, 2024) Violet moves to a new house that has surprising secrets. When she finds herself battling a lingering illness, she suspects something in the attic’s yellow wallpaper is watching her. All of this complicates her new year in middle school, which is already bringing changes to her friends group. Pretty obviously, since Violet’s new bedroom has creepy yellow wallpaper, it is a distinct echo of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story. But unlike the minor psychological suspense in Gilman’s story, Not Quite a Ghost lacks a cohesive explanation for what is truly happening in the book. Is Not Quite a Ghost truly a ghost story, or is it a psychological experience as Gilman’s story was? Neither explanation is satisfying.

Even if this question was not meant to be answered, many other lonely threads dealing with the characters and plot remain unsatisfactorily hanging at the end of the book. None of the characters feels fully developed. Violet makes a new friend at school who is conveniently studying ghosts, but even he is not portrayed with a unique personality, other than that of a friendly new student. (Why was he now in school after he’s been homeschooling so long? What health issue is he dealing with? How did his struggles lead him to now help Violet?)

Violet has superficial experiences. She and her former best friend have verbal confrontations. Friends are pitted against friends. But all of these plot elements feel incomplete. Although the text and the character’s dialogue tell of their feelings of jealousy, anger, and frustration, these emotions aren’t creatively shown in the text, other than moments of “telling.” The characters don’t seem to change from beginning to end, despite these experiences

Not Quite a Ghost has hints of foreshadowing, such as a couple of omniscient comments about how the house is “lying,” and how the house is “aloof” on the street. These were only mentioned a few times. The omniscient narrator was not a part of the story, so this perspective felt out of place, albeit interesting. It does make the book seem like a ghost story, and it makes the reader want to know more.

As the story progresses and ultimately ends, the reader is left with a plethora of questions. Is this creature from the wall the a previous person? How did it appear? Why is it there? Does he/she have a name? How is he/she talking? How is the wallpaper trapping it? Why don’t the kids, who are studying ghosts, not ask questions of this mysterious creature. If the creature is a ghost of a deceased person, why is called “not quite a ghost”? If it really is not a ghost, what is it? There are no answers and as the characters call it “the thing from the wall,” the text feels really awkward to read. Why not make this a straightforward “ghost story”?

What is really happening in this book?!?!

I was so disappointed. I’ve seen Not Quite a Ghost on the Mock Newbery list, with a lot of votes, already. I can’t understand why. It is flat and unsatisfying. The characters are boring, the plot feels convoluted and incomplete, and the suspenseful parts (for me) are more confusing than intriguing.

Reviewed on June 19, 2024

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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