General notice: in the end, Notes from Ghost Town did win me over, and I enjoyed this book. However, I didn’t like this as much as Ellison’s debut, and I would have liked to see something edgier and less “safe” than this book turned out to be. But I did like it.
The problem, initially, was that I was confused out of my mind. I couldn’t tell what the progression of time was, and subsequently, I couldn’t decide if what I was reading happened before or after another scene. The first ten chapters or so were self-contained points in time, and I had trouble connected the dots. A little less than 50% into the book, Ellison found her groove and things began to make sense to me, though it was rather impossible for her to recover from the awkward opening chapters.
Notes from Ghost Town is narrated by Olivia, whose best friend, Stern, was killed by her schizophrenic mother. Except Olivia thinks her mom didn’t do it, so, with the help of not-so-bad bad boy Austin, she does some snooping of her own in order to clear her mom’s name. And…that’s basically the whole story, really. Stern’s ghost plays a fairly major role, and there was a cheesy “don’t walk into the light” scene in the end, but it wasn’t anything new to me. I was honestly pretty disappointed by how unremarkable this book’s plot is; it’s predictible, cliché, and probably unmemorable. Don’t get me wrong—I liked it and enjoyed the second half quite a bit, but this entire production felt very formulaic and dull to me. The budding romance with Austin, for example, followed a cookie-cutter routine: girl hates boy but is convinced into dating boy, boy and girl like each other, turns out boy is hiding something, girl is mad at being lied to and sends him away, boy apologizes and the two strike a truce, then boy and girl kiss. Been there, done that, times a jillion.
Also noticeably lacking from this book was the exceptionally memorable prose that was so present in The Butterfly Clues. While I wouldn’t say this book is badly written or in need of revision, I wasn’t wowed in the same way I was with Ellison’s debut. Quite disappointing.
On the good side, though, I did enjoy Olivia’s character a lot. I thought she was realistic and relatable, dealing with her mom as a mentally impaired murderer and her dad’s remarriage. I really love how authors and publishers are taking notice that readers really appreciate the incorporation of family dynamics into YA books, and Notes from Ghost Town is a novel that does a really great job with that whole issue.
And even though the ghostly elements were pretty standard and brought nothing new to the game, I do think they worked well in a cheesy “get over your first love” sort of way. (Actually, if one combined Cold Kiss with a murder mystery, you’d have this book down pat.)
Mostly, I feel that Kate Ellison took the safe bet in writing Notes from Ghost Town. It wasn’t a bad book, but it was formulaic and predictable. I liked it, still, but I hope this author’s next novel break standard YA molds a bit better than this did.