Victoria Schwab, who also publishes books under the name V.E. Schwab, has become one of my favorite authors, even though she incorporates paranormal and magical themes I usually eschew. And although this book is directed at a middle grade or tween audience, I found it entertaining and engaging, even at my ripe old age.
Cassidy (“Cass”) Blake, who seems to be around 12, has an unusual BFF: his name is Jacob and he is a ghost.
Cass is a photography buff, and about a year before, on her way by bicycle to take a picture of a favorite spot near their house, Cass was knocked off a bridge by a truck, and dumped into the icy water. She thought she was dying and blacked out. When she came to, she was “on the riverbank, gasping for air as a boy crouched beside me, in jeans and a superhero shirt, his blond hair sticking up as if he’d just run his fingers through it.” “What happened?” she asked. “You fell in,” he said. “I pulled you out.” This was her introduction to Jacob.
As she explains, “ . . . something happened that day when Jacob pulled me out of the water. I guess I pulled him out of somewhere, too, and we got tangled up, and now I’m not all alive and he’s not all dead.”
“Near death. That’s what they call it. But I know it wasn’t just near. I was standing right on top of it. Under it. Long enough for my eyes to adjust, the way they would in a dark room. Long enough for me to make out the edges of the space before being dragged back into the bright, cold light.”
Now, she says, she has one foot with the living, and one with the dead.
A week later, she found the Veil, the curtain between the living and the dead. She is drawn to it, but doesn’t understand why. It’s kind of scary, sometimes more so than others:
“When I was younger, I used to be afraid of the monster in the closet. I couldn’t go to sleep until my dad came in, threw open the closet door, and showed me it was empty. Crossing the Veil is like opening the closet door. Of course, the difference is, monsters aren’t real. The closet was always empty. The Veil . . . not so much.”
Most humorously, her parents have no idea about this new aspect of her character, even though they make their living writing books about paranormal activity. And now, they have a contract for a tv a documentary on the paranormal, “The Most Haunted Cities in the World,” with the first installment to take place in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is called “City of Ghosts.”
Both Cass and Jacob think this must be an exaggeration, until they find out for themselves how true it is. In Edinburgh, Cass also meets another “in-between” girl, like herself, who is their landlady’s niece, Lara. Lara explains that she sees ghosts also, a skill that came from having cheated death. In addition, Lara claims that people like her and Cass have to repay their “debt” by helping set ghosts free from the Veil.
She teaches Cass that carrying a mirror around at all times is essential for protection for ghosts who mean her harm. Ghosts can’t look at mirrors, she says. Mirrors force them to face the truth that they are dead.
Before long, among the many dead of Edinburgh, Cass finds out just what Lara means, and is in danger of becoming a permanent ghost herself.
Evaluation: This story is absolutely charming. It’s not too scary, but lots of fun, and perfect for the intended audience. Cass and Lara are both admirable heroines, albeit in different ways, and Jacob is an excellent foil, as well as a faithful friend. This is touted as the first in a series (a fact that sort of gives away the ending), but I can’t wait for more.
Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, 2018