#MG Review: Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

ARC cover image, publisher Guppy Books, due October 2022

This book has everything that an advanced middle grade reader could wish for; action, friendship, innocent first love (boy meets ghost), mystery solving, sense of place and a spine tingling ghost story! From the opening sentence:

Rebecca Strand was sixteen the first time she saw her father kill a ghost

page 1

I was utterly gripped. I had not previously read anything by the prize-winning Canadian author, Kenneth Oppel, but have now downloaded some of his earlier titles to my Kindle. If you are looking for a fresh take on a ghost story, are aged 10-14 and you have previously enjoyed Frost Hollow Hall and Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll, then make this your next choice after it is published on 13th October 2022!

Fifteen year old Gabe is working a summer holiday job, recounting the historical story of the mysterious deaths of Rebecca Strand and her father, as part of the ghost tour he gives daily at the abandoned Gibraltar Point Lighthouse which used to guard the entrance to Toronto’s harbour. On the day that one of the tourists in his audience turns out to be a descendant of Rebecca Strand, Gabe discovers that ghosts really do walk the earth and is drawn into a historical, detective mystery alongside best friend Yuri, teenage descendant of the lighthouse keepers and ghost blogger Callie, and the spectral form of Rebecca Strand. Together they must solve the riddle of the missing “ghostlight”, get their hands on this powerful amber disc, and fulfil the mission of the ancient Order of Keepers to destroy the hideously evil Viker, a villainous ghost hungry for power over the living and the dead.

I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this novel. The teenage characters really do come to life on the pages as genuine individuals. Gabe is a sensitive, caring boy who is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his father – first to another woman and then suddenly, to a fatal car accident. As his relationship with the ghostly form of Rebecca Smart develops we see him opening up his padlocked emotions and eventually learning the power of forgiveness. Yuri is similarly expertly rendered, the son of Russian immigrants, his mother is a journalist who has had to flee Russia and his father is an engineer struggling to gain the paperwork that will allow him to stay and work in Canada. We see the strain that this uncertainty places on Yuri, even as he utilises his inherent engineering ability to create the weaponry to fend off a ghost army. Aspiring journalist Callie was my favourite character from the moment she uttered the line:

Student librarian, four years running…I know my way around a database.

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as she expertly explains to Gabe, Yuri and Rebecca how she tracked down ancient court transcripts in her hunt for the location of the missing “ghostlight”. There are several key moments of library-related action which highlight the importance of repositories of knowledge and made this librarian’s heart sing!

Finally, the ghostly side of the story. Rebecca comes across as a normal, although somewhat old-fashioned girl; she has been dead for 200 years after all! She is able to communicate with Gabe by “clasping”, holding his hand to gain some of his living energy and to allow him to see her. This connection between them grows throughout the story into a totally innocent first love that genuinely tugs at the heart strings, it is perfectly pitched for a tween to early teen audience who primarily want a thrilling story with some emotional content but are not yet ready for adult themes. Rebecca’s character is not scary but Viker, who wishes to raise an army of the “wakeful and wicked dead” is quite terrifying and readers of a sensitive nature (like me) might want to read this book during daylight hours only!

I will not go into any more plot details for fear of spoiling anyone’s enjoyment of the narrative. I will just leave you with the recommendation that if you have any responsibility for choosing books to be read by Year 6 or Key Stage 3 pupils, put Ghostlight on your pre-order list for the autumn term.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and Guppy Books for my review ARC in return for my honest opinion on Ghostlight.

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