Ever since Katie lost her mother, she and her father, who restores old paintings, have rattled around in their big house, almost consumed with grief. Nothing is the same without her mother; Katie abandons her friends, her interests, and spends time remembering. As a balm for her soul, Katie gets away by taking a summer job at a nearby estate, digging up the garden and soon enough a mystery to go with it. In the midst of discovering another woman’s story, Katie begins to clarify her own, to reach out and embrace life and love in just the way her mother might have wanted.
It’s easy to explain why I loved Nothing but Ghosts. It is deep and meaningful and poignant, relieved by the mystery and the hint of a love story, written in absolutely stunning language. Kephart’s prose is the kind that you get lost in; almost poetic in its beauty, it had me thinking about certain lines, going back to pick up the pieces of something I’d just discovered, and at times just marveling at how effectively, simply, but gorgeously she gets Katie’s feelings across. There are connections throughout the book and I can’t wait to go back, read it again, and pick up a little on what I missed, because I know it’s there. This is a YA novel, but is easily appreciated by adults, particularly because it is so full of substance.
This book truly gets Kephart’s talent across in its depiction of Katie’s grief. Grief is impossible to define and at times it certainly feels that everyone’s grief is different, every loss is different. Yet somehow in this little novel, Kephart has written the most realistic depiction of grief that I have ever read.
Everything looks like caution afterward, everything inside me feels old and used and cracked, and people say, “Oh, Katie, you’ve handled your mother’s passing so well,” and I think, Handled. Handled? I’m barely breathing, can’t you tell? And somewhere out there Jessie and Ellen are laughing, just the two of them, in the back of an old theater, and they think that I’ve forgotten them, maybe, but I haven’t. I never would – they just remind me of my mother, they just ask about my mother, and that’s not a question I want to hear, even if I knew how to answer.
– p. 132-3.
Caution is a theme that runs through the book, as if Katie needs to step carefully without her mother’s protection, as if she needs to warn off the world because she has been damaged and hasn’t healed enough yet. There are so many meanings within this book that I’m sure someone else will draw something completely new from it that I hadn’t even considered. It’s thoughtful, quiet, but huge in its impact.
The plot itself is intriguing and I didn’t see where the mystery was going. I loved the little touch of romance. I thought a careful, slow romance with a boy heading off to college soon, someone unconnected to her mother, was perfect for this stage in her life. I sat down and read this book in only a couple of hours, it was that addictive, and then I kept thinking about it when I’d finished. For me, this is a hallmark of a great book. So often I put them down and forget all about them, but this one, I’m remembering. I can’t wait to read more by Beth Kephart.