I have a confession to make. I’m afraid of ghosts and spooky stories in general. I don’t like hearing horror stories or watching scary films. So when I first saw Angie’s Retro Friday review of A Certain Slant of Light, I didn’t want to read it. I mean, would you look at that cover? It’s enough to make the scaredy-cat in me afraid. It wasn’t until Holly assured me that this wasn’t a scary book did I decide to give it a try. Good thing it’s available in Fully Booked for P378. For some reason, I thought it’ll be harder to find a copy of it.
Here’s the summary from Laura Whitcomb’s website:
In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen – terrified, but intrigued – is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.
Helen is a being of Light. Yes, that means that she’s a ghost and for several decades, she has existed in this world by cleaving to different hosts. She stays near her hosts because otherwise, she’ll be pulled back to the depths of what she believes is her personal hell. No one sees her or hears her and she’s gotten used to that fact. Until a boy in her host’s class looks at her directly. Turns out James is also of Light and he’s started occupying a high school boy’s body when the boy’s spirit vacated it. Naturally, both Helen and James are curious about each other because they’ve never met anyone else like them. Thus begins an unusual romance.
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. A couple of chapters in and I knew I was going to love the writing. Here’s a sample of one of Helen and James’ early conversations. They’re in the library, discussing Billy’s homework which James needs to revise. Billy is the high school boy who James has possessed.
He wrote and whispered the words aloud as he did. “I am in the library. It smells like old stuff.”
“It smells familiar,” I suggested. “It smells like words.” Because his left side was to me, I couldn’t easily take his hand to write.
“Books are boring,” James said as he wrote.
“They line the walls like a thousand leather doorways to be opened into worlds unknown,” I offered.
He thought about this and then wrote with a smile, “I hate books.”
“A sea of dreams trapped in a span of pressed pages,” I said.
Lovely, isn’t it? You can see Helen’s love for the written word reflected with those few lines. It is because of this love that she has cleaved to literary minded hosts. The story is narrated from Helen’s point of view and because she comes from a different time, her words lend a certain old world feel to the entire book. It’s always a pleasure to read a book with a main character who loves to read. Similar to how James found Billy, Helen discovers Jenny, a teenage girl empty of spirit. As Helen and James get to know each other better, Helen struggles to live Jenny’s life and comes to understand what has caused Jenny’s spirit to fly away. It was amusing to watch both Helen and James cope with modern life – the slang used by teenagers, food that they never got to taste when they were alive like pizza and root beer, the posture and gestures common to present day situations. Aside from that, they also try to understand why they’ve been unable to move on from this world and why .
I wonder why this book isn’t more well-known? It is a delightful book with a unique premise and relatable characters. I haven’t read anything like it. I’m also continually amazed at how YA novels touch on serious topics such as loneliness and redemption without the heavy feeling that usually comes with reading things like these. In spite of the unusual aspects of the book like having a ghost as its main character, A Certain Slant of Light is a love story at its core. I hope more people get to read this one. Has anyone read Laura Whitcomb’s other book – Fetch? I’m curious of that book is just as good as this one.