A Certain Slant of Light -- Laura Whitcomb
I was so very happy to find this book while packing for our vacation -- both because I've wanted to read it for ages and because I thought I'd lost it. And because it's an ILL book and Portland Public Library charges A WHOLE LOT for lost books. Phew.
Now I'm probably going to buy my own copy anyway, though, so I guess I'll be paying for it one way or another.
Dead narrators have become almost common, haven't they? A Certain Slant of Light is narrated by a 27-year-old woman who has been dead for over 130 years. She has survived all this time in our world, has fought the pull of an icy hell, by cleaving to human hosts. Mr. Brown, a high school English teacher, is her fifth and current host. As with all of her previous hosts, he is unaware of her presence.
While she can watch the living, listen to them, read over their shoulders, she can't interact, can't turn her own pages. She's never encountered another ghost. It's a lonely and often frustrating existence.
Until, of course, the first sentence of the book changes everything:
Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you're dead.
How's that for a hook?
Synopsis-wise, I think less is more in this case. If my extremely brief description interests you at all, I'd suggest that you give it a try. 'Cause, wow. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop*. I found Helen's voice immediately believable, the storyline constantly surprised me and the writing itself was just gorgeous. It was one of those reading experiences where I forgot I was reading. I could see and hear everything. By the last few chapters, I caught myself (literally) holding my breath due to the suspense.
I'd read complaints about the sex and profanity in this book, so I was prepared for it to be explicit and potty-mouthed. It wasn't. There was sex, yes, and it was pretty steamy at moments, but I never found it shocking -- or even explicit. And there was profanity, but not nearly as much as I would have expected, given the horrified tone of the complaints. My theory is that the authors of the one-star reviews over at Amazon aren't very familiar with modern Young Adult Literature.
I do think that the book could have been marketed either as a YA book or an adult read. (Apparently, so did the publishers -- it was put out under Graphia, which is a YA imprint, but the cover art TOTALLY makes it look like an adult novel.) It's a real crossover. Helen died when she was 27 years old and has lived -- in a sense -- for another 130. Someone who has been around for two hundred years is probably going to have a different outlook than your average teenager. But, due to her amnesia about her previous life, and due to circumstances in the book that I don't want to give away, in a lot of ways, she's experiencing Big Life Stuff for the first time -- which is, like, prime YA novel territory**.
A Certain Slant of Light is much more than a simple, run-of-the-mill ghost story. It'll make you think about faith and religion (and faith vs. religion) and forgiveness and love and free will, while still being a page-turner and a ghost story. I think people will have very different takes on it, which might make it a great book group read.
*I really shouldn't bring books on vacation -- it makes me so antisocial.
**In my head, that came out very Valley Girl, hence the "like". Sorry.