The Invisible Friend by Louise Arnold – Book Review + Activity Ideas

The Invisible Friend

The Sixth Sense’s eerie proclamation of “I see dead people” made the ability to spot ghosts pop-culturally relevant. And who hasn’t had a bit of an identity crisis where you start wondering, “Do I exist? Am I a ghost? Am I Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense?!” Or was that just me?

In Louise Arnold’s world, however, ghosts are decidedly not dead people. The Ghost World sits right on top of the Real World, and ghosts inhabit the same space as humans. The only difference is that humans can’t see ghosts.

Some humans tried to find explanations for ghosts. They’d say they were memories caught in time, or the spirits of people that had died, or a premonition of things to come. Ghosts would chuckle at that. Ghosts are ghosts, as simple as gerbils are gerbils and seagulls are seagulls, and there’s nothing to be explained. I haunt, therefore I am.

The story is about two boys – one human (Tom Golden) and one ghostly (Grey Arthur). Tom has just moved to a new house and a new school and is utterly miserable. The perfectly pleasant 11-year-old is the constant target of bullies and nasty whispers and doesn’t have a single friend to call his own. For no discernible reason, he is known throughout the school as a freak and life is just generally horrid. His parents are lovely but clueless – as parents tend to be in such books – and have no idea what a miserable time he’s having.

Grey Arthur’s misery, on the other hand, has another cause. He’s a ghost without a purpose. He has been around for centuries but he still doesn’t know who he is.

There are more different types of ghost than there are different colours of crayon, and yet Grey Arthur didn’t belong to any group. He wasn’t scary enough to be a Screamer, wasn’t naughty enough to be a Poltergeist, wasn’t melancholy enough to be a Sadness Summoner. Each different thing Arthur had tried to be, he’d failed.

On the Tuesday when the story begins, Arthur stumbles upon Tom’s loneliness and feels like he should help. So he decides to make up a ghost type of his own – Arthur Grey is going to be Tom Golden’s Invisible Friend. Invisible Friendship involves moving under your best mate’s bed and following him to school, looking out for him, helping him avoid bullies and generally making sure he stays out of trouble. The problem, of course, is the Invisible part of the Friendship. Even though Tom fares slightly better at school, he still doesn’t know that Arthur actually exists.

Until the day he’s hit by a car and lands up in the hospital. Apparently, a near death experience does wonders for bringing ghosts into focus, even when the ghosts aren’t dead to begin with. Tom finds that he can suddenly see clearer, not only his new roommate Arthur, but also every other ghost everywhere he goes. Even though he’s freaked out in the beginning, school becomes a less lonely place with a ghost friend in tow.

The rest of the book follows Tom’s encounters with other ghosts, his continued problems with his schoolmates, worried parents who hear him talking to Arthur and a suspiciously chipper child psychologist.

The premise of the book sounded intriguining but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The book is filled with fascinating throwaway details, wholly original plot elements and manages to fit in quite a bit in 280 pages. The writing manages to be funny and gently clever without resorting to any sort of gimmickry. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know the wide array of characters, human and spectral. The two protagonists are immensely likable and the writing steers them clear of becoming boringly predictable.

A quick bit of Google sleuthing shows that the book is the first in a series, even though it holds up pretty well as a standalone read. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for Ghost School and A Good Day For Haunting the next time I’m at a used book sale.

You can buy the book here which seems to be the only place online that stocks it.

1

  • The book features three sorts of ghosts (not including Arthur’s made up Invisible Friend). Make up your own kind of ghost that could be a part of this world. What are these ghosts called? What do they look like? What do they do? Draw a portrait.
  • Dress up as a ghost – either a traditional one, one from the book, one that you made up, or one straight out of Bollywood.
  • Gather a few friends, parents and/or siblings and play a game of Complete the Spooky Story. One person starts by coming up with the first sentence, followed by another person with the next sentence, followed by the third person with the third sentence and so on. Two rules: 1) The sentences have to form a logical story, so you have to pay attention to what the previous people said. 2) It has to be as gruesome as possible.
Advertisements

Book Review: Mostly Madly Mayil by Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran

mostly madly mayilMostly Madly Mayil

Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran

Pages: 140

Price: INR 175

Publisher: Tulika Publishers

Rating: 4/5

Thirteen-year-old Mayil Ganeshan is back. She’s armed with plenty of spunk and a diary full of opinions. Her entries range from creating fake Facebook profiles to talk to the cute senior at school to tales of her madcap family, from discussions on social discrimination to dealing with sexual harassment. And the voice that emerges is wonderfully, uniquely Mayil. The entries paint a portrait of a teenager than teen me would most definitely have wanted to be friends with.

I don’t know if this book fits into the YA genre. That confusion may be based on how much I enjoyed reading this book. Usually I’m not the biggest fan of the genre. But my YA qualms aside, I genuinely think it’s difficult to slot this book; for me, it creates a distinct corner of its own. Yes, Mayil writes about serious issues in her diary but she’s also irreverent and fun. Even when there are sombre topics at hand, a few pages down she’ll write about dog ghosts or about pretending to be a boy called Liyam.

The entire book is told through a series of diary entries. There is no huge plot that needs resolving, no problem that needs addressing or even a play that needs rehearsing. There are no sparkly vampires or the-fate-of-the-world-rests-on-Mayil’s-shoulders scenarios. And that’s exactly what I love about the book. It is full of glimpses into the life of an average teenager. The entries are contemporary and true to life and perfectly depict a teenager’s mind, with all the highs and lows in tow. Mountains are erected on molehills while problems the size of planets are crushed into peas – perfectly compatible with what I remember of my teens. Another great thing about the book is that it perfectly reflects the times and the geography it exists in. Mayil, and by extension the book, lives in and exudes Chennai and India. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else – the jokes, the references, the problems manage to be globally relatable while at the same time being inherently local.

Pick up this book to add a tremendous dose of fun and irreverence into your reading list with a smattering of insight thrown in. And pick up the first book – Mayil Will Not Be Quiet! – too. You don’t have to read the first book to be able to understand this one. With my very poor memory, I barely remember the first book’s contents even though I read it less than a year ago. But the first book is equally wonderful so you might as well put it on your to-read list too.

Book Review: Read Aloud Stories By Various Authors (Illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan)

read aloudRead Aloud Stories

Various Authors/Illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan

Pages: 92

Price: INR 200

Publisher: Tulika Publishers

Rating: 4/5

A few weeks ago, I happened to ask my mother how I became such a bookworm in a family of non-readers. Apparently, when I was about four years old, she had brought home a few books from a shop near her office. When she showed one to me, I stared at the pictures for ages. So she used to sit and read out the stories to me while I looked at the pictures in glee. I have absolutely no memory of this. My first bookish memories involve rooting through stacks of secondhand books at one of my favourite places in the city and fishing out a bunch of Enid Blytons. All this while I never thought of how I was introduced to books in the first place.

This recent revelation has reinforced the idea of shared reading as a means to creating young book lovers. And Read Aloud Stories is a great choice for those who want to give picture books a temporary breather. The book is an anthology of 15 stories and poems written by some of the best children’s writers in the country. And, as the title suggests, they’re perfect for reading out loud.

Disclaimer: I am not now nor have ever been a parent. I don’t read children’s books thinking of how much children will enjoy them; I read them purely on the basis of how much I will enjoy them.

The book is a mix of contemporary stories, retold folktales and simple verse.  And, speaking from experience, it is a lot of fun reading them out loud. The tales are full of fun sounds, quirky characters and are a blast to dramatically read out (I’m pretty sure that my imaginary audience had fun too). My favourite story of the bunch was the one that came at the very beginning – A Poo Story by Zai Whitaker. It’s not what it sounds like, it’s a hundred times better.

Ashok Rajagopalan’s illustrations really bring the stories alive but the stars of the book are the words themselves.