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.
- 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.