Paranormals of any sort are almost completely outside the realm of my reading experience, but after reading a friend’s glowing review of The Ghost and the Goth, the first novel in Stacey Kade’s paranormal romance YAtrilogy, I decided to check the series out. I was immediately hooked.
Alona Dare is the undisputed queen of her school, possessing the perfect body, friends, and social status. Her life is the envy of her lesser peers—a carefully crafted image she jealously guards, masking her less-than-perfect home life. When that reaches the boiling point, it leads to an unguarded moment when Alona steps in front of a bus and is instantly killed.
But the hereafter is nothing like Alona expected. Stuck “in-between” life and death, she’s forced to watch life go on sans her presence. To her chagrin, the only one who can still see and hear her is Will Killian, a loner and the type of guy she’d have never associated with when she was alive.
But Alona needs Will and his unorthodox “gift” if she has any hope of discovering why she hasn’t moved on. And for his part, Will would like nothing more than for one more needy spirit—and a famously selfish one at that—to disappear for good. But the more the unlikely pair get to know each other, the more they begin to realize what might have been if either had dared look beyond the superficial. Over the course of the series, Will and Alona battle a malevolent ghost set on Will’s destruction, an organization determined to destroy Alona’s spirit, and finally the greatest challenge of all: the cost of a second chance at life.
With Alona and Will, Kade has created two of the most memorable YA characters that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Each novel alternates between the two characters' points of view, allowing us to see their transformation and slow-burning romance gain traction, as the most unlikely romantic pair you’d ever hope to meet starts to discover just how much they’ve come to matter to each other. Kade nails the teenage point of view, with its requisite uncertainty and angst, but never allowing that to bog down the narrative. She balances the angst with a deft exploration of Will and Alona’s hopes, dreams, and fears, and a near-constant stream of sarcasm and witty banter.
For some readers, the very idea of a romantic ghost story may prove troublesome. However, in a market glutted with offerings that explore to varying degrees the world’s never-ending fascination with all things spiritual (often not biblically grounded), when approached as an entertainment, Kade’s novels deliver unexpectedly poignant moments of noteworthy character development. There is some swearing (most prevalent in the first novel, as I recall), but on balance Alona and Will’s adventures are surprisingly clean, with an equally surprising amount of romantic sizzle that in the end is more about the leads’ emotional connection than just physical attraction.The biggest strength of this series is watching Will and Alona discovering just how much each can offer the other, as first a friendship, then a blossoming romance, develop between them.
To be clear, this trilogy is candy-coated escapism at its finest, but couched within Kade’s snarky humor and romance is a surprisingly touching examination of family and identity. You don’t expect great character studies in novels of this ilk, so it is all the more surprising and enjoyable to see the carefully meted out character growth Kade develops come to fruition over the course of the series. When Alona is first introduced, she’s spoiled, bratty, and privileged. But as Kade gradually lays out the truth of Alona’s backstory, revealing her heartache and struggles and just how easy it is to judge her, she challenges readers not to accept superficiality and fall into the same assumption traps that are Alona and Will’s first obstacle to a meaningful relationship.
Alona undergoes the steepest learning curve over the course of the trilogy, a challenge that reaches a crisis point when she unintentionally appropriates an accident victim’s body. For the first time in her life she becomes part of a family that cares about her, and in turn she begins to consider the implications of her actions and attitudes on those she encounters. It is particularly rewarding to watch Alona grapple with this unexpected second chance at life, forced to decide if she’s willing to take the best parts of herself forward while laying the pain of the past to rest. Will, for his part, must overcome his lingering prejudice against Alona’s origins as the undisputed “queen” of the popular crowd as he tries to come to terms with her emotional and physical transformation over the course of the series. And I loved this—because when Alona’s looks change, Will is forced to confront just how much her spirit (emotions, worldview, friendship) has come to mean more to him than any given physical form.
While Alona and Will may constantly spar and bicker in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, the heart of this series is watching what happens when two seemingly completely incompatible individuals discover how the unlikeliest of friendships brings out the best in each of them.
Image copyright Hyperion. Review copies from the reviewer's personal collection.
Ruth Anderson is a lifelong bibliophile and avid reviewer who can be found discussing a wide variety of books, shows, and films at her blog Booktalk & More.
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