Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ordinary Ghosts by Eireann Corrigan

"understand I didn't earn the key. I wouldn't have even been considered. That key is something a guy like me would only hear about twenty years later, at some craptastic reunion, long after the secret currents running under the surface of Caramoor Academy stopped dragging past me. We'd all be back, hunched over the same pocked tables in the dining hall, cutting boiled chicken with plastic knives, and someone would start asking, 'who held the key our year? who was it?' The way we interrogate each other now: 'who did Mr. Kirkman catch jerking off in the music building bathroom?' 'Isaiah did how many hits?' Mischievously. Or sinisterly. I've rarely been close enough to tell."

And so starts Emil's story. His mother has died recently after a short seriously debilitating bout with cancer. His brother has run off and the only way they know he's still alive is that he sends the occasional postcard through the mail. Emil's father is emotionally distant, also trying to work his way out of the funk that life has dealt them. Then Emil discovers the key to his private school in his brother's coin jar and he decides that he has to check it out. If nothing else because he wants a private retreat. And so begins his nightly journeys to the school to poke around in offices where he reads the counselor's files on him, steals books from the library, and drinks the staff's supply of hot chocolate. Even Emil can see that he wasn't cut out for holding the key to the school - he's nowhere cool enough to think up a legendary key prank before he passes the key onto someone else.

It took me awhile to get into this book. At first I was overwhelmed with Emil's underlying depression. I could tell that much of his commentary was meant to come out sarcastic, but it fell a bit flat. It wasn't until he met Jade, the daughter of one of his teachers who is also using the school at night as a private retreat, that his voice started working for me. It changed from crushing depression, to a teen boy who was crushingly depressed, but with full awareness that this made him a total sad sack and he needed to hide it somehow. He won me over. It could be that it was at that point that he began to recover emotionally and so the comments were actually lighter - or it could be all in the reading. I'm not sure. All I do know is that at a certain point I started to laugh at his observations and really started to root for him.

He's got a lot against him - the dead mother that he's still grieving for him, a brother he idealized that ran off, and a dad that has been withholding some very important life-altering facts about why his brother left. But he's also got a lot of things going for him. A best friend that sticks around while also giving him space to work things out, the ability to reach out and make a connection with Jade, and the growing knowledge that he'll be ok in the end.

No comments: