Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Cara’s at the end of her senior year and she is devastated that she won’t be leaving small, insular Stossel, Washington, along with the other college-bound kids she’s desperate to escape. Cara had a cyber-bullying incident in junior high, when she first began public school following homeschooling with her grandma, and was a little naive. A girl she liked, who she thought liked her back, asked for some pictures that became shared around school and made Cara a pariah before she even met anyone else.

Flash forward five years and Cara’s now an amateur ghost hunter. She hopes that she can parlay her YouTube channel into a career, or any activity that gets her out of Stossel prior to her community college associate’s degree. For Cara, it’s time to start over, far away from any of her tormentors. Cara relies heavily on Holly, her only friend, who happens to be a super-devout Christian. Holly’s angle is to find evidence of an afterlife, and be a great friend to Cara. Having a hunch that shooting scenes where a former schoolmate tragically died might reveal a ghost prompts Cara and Holly to film at a nearby abandoned paper mill. Cara’s stunned when Aiden’s ghost begins talking to her later that night.

It turns out that Aiden believes his ghost remains because his younger sister, Meredith, is super depressed since his death. Meredith is also a senior at Stossel High School, and Aiden’s sure that getting Cara to ask Meredith to prom will cheer her up. It’s a bit half-baked, as Cara’s a social leper, but he’s willing to coach her up on his sis. It’s totally icky and Cara initially refuses, but Aiden says he won’t help her prove that ghosts exist if she doesn’t cheer Meredith up. Cara’s so desperate to get the fame she believes will help her escape Stossel and all the bitter bullies that have tormented her that she agrees to Aiden’s terms. Meredith has been completely withdrawn and depressed since Aiden died, as they were very close.

Unfortunately, the more Cara tries to build a rapport with Meredith–with and without Aiden’s help–the more that they connect, and the more that Cara genuinely sees Meredith as a person, someone she really likes, rather than a means to an end with Aiden and the fame she desires. Still, Cara’s only a high school senior, and she’s been intensely damaged by bullying and abandonment. She’s not really super empathetic, nor is she emotionally healthy. She’s very transactional in her thinking, which unconsciously increases the distance between her and others. Furthermore, her self-esteem is super battered, having not been accepted to a university and feeling like a loser everyone’s leaving behind. All of this leads to a bit of mercenary mindset, where she’s ultra determined to get proof of Aiden’s presence, even if it ends up upsetting Meredith. Or, hoping that she’ll be able to convince Meredith that getting insider knowledge about her from Aiden’s ghost will somehow be okay. Her naiveté is pretty on-brand, as is her ruthlessness when the major conflict comes to pass. Holly’s trying to gently call Cara out for this mercenary-type mentality, but it’s lost on Cara, who struggles with building strong interpersonal relationships. Aiden was super popular, and his brutal honesty opens Cara’s eyes more than once to her obliviousness. The more Cara and Meredith connect, the more Holly wants Cara to come clean with Meredith about Aiden’s presence.

I genuinely loved this story. Cara is such an emotional character, with her abandonment issues, deep resentments, and desire to start over. She can’t cope with Holly leaving for college, and has such a low self-esteem over not getting accepted to university. She’s not so much a pariah as a porcupine with quills out all the time. Her suppressed anger blinded her to the goodness and possibility of other friendships, like with Holly’s boyfriend Elvis, who is a genuine friend to Cara, but she sees all his effort as either pity, or in service to keeping Holly happy. I loved how Cara and Aiden develop a true friendship, as they’re very much opposed to being fake with each other. Aiden has no rep to maintain, and Cara doesn’t care about his past popularity. He’s also pretty instructive to Cara, helping her become a bit more of a compassionate person through his brutal honesty.

This is not a lighthearted rom-com. The funny moments undercut the melancholy themes in good ways, but Cara’s self-involvement and protective barriers lead to absolutely unconscionable behavior to keep hold of both Meredith and Aiden. I was just as devastated as Meredith when Cara’s crassness ruined the fragile relationship they’d built. It was quite a curveball, for me as a reader, not because it was unbelievable, but because it was so completely on brand for Cara, who’s almost incapable of seeing beyond her own pain and needs.

The resolution was super awesome, however, and allowed Cara to grow and make amends to all her friends, Aiden included, in a way that made sense and also supported Cara. There’s a little romance here, but it’s all influenced by the dishonesty Cara perpetuates at Aiden’s behest. I liked how Meredith makes it clear that she’s a person who’s got her own life and her own issues, and Cara’s better-late-than-never sensitivity was finally the “just right” approach. I wanted to shake some sense into Cara more than once, which further underlined how deeply connected I felt to her character. The conversations were pure teen voice, and I admired how well-rounded all these characters felt. This story is one I definitely recommend for readers who like YA LGBTQ adventure/romance.