A group of outcasts find friendship and love in this ghostly, queer romance for ages 15+.
Sal and his sister Asha live in what is supposed to be one of the most haunted houses in the country. Since their dad was killed five years before, their artist mother has become more and more closed off, keeping odd hours and seeking signs that he is still with them in the house. The kids at his school continually tease him about where he lives and he just wants to be left alone. When a new boy, Pax, moves into their small village, he is keen to explore the famously haunted house. Pax is very sweet and unusual - he dresses in clothes he knitted himself and believes in all things supernatural. And he wants to make friends. Except Sal doesn't want a new friend - he has Dirk, who is popular enough for the both of them. Brooding and quiet, Sal is fed up of everyone referring to him as 'ghost boy', particularly after a national newspaper features his home in a 'Top 10 Haunted Houses' article. However, the house does hold secrets and both Sal and Asha are determined that they won't be found out. With their mum barely present, Asha holds down a job at the local shop rather than going to university and the two teenagers are generally left to fend for themselves.
Eventually, Pax manages to persuade Sal to let him 'cleanse' the house and after hanging out a few times, they gradually form a friendship. Soon, Sal, Dirk and Pax are joined by Elsie, a previously popular girl who is being shunned by her friends because they believe she slept with a boy in the local woods. The four form a tight friendship and begin hanging out and Sal begins to develop romantic feelings for Pax.
I really enjoyed the characters and the found family aspect of this YA mystery romance. Sal and Pax's blossoming relationship is sweet and I enjoyed how naturally it seems to happen. While Pax is openly gay, their attraction to each other comes as a surprise to Sal, who had thought he was straight, but it is not an unwelcome surprise for him. Sal doesn't spend long grappling with his feelings or worrying about coming out: he likes Pax and he is comfortable enough with who he is to accept that. It explains a lot about himself, such as why he hadn't enjoyed kissing girls that much after all, but kissing Pax feels right. Whilst figuring out your sexuality is a huge part of growing up and a confusing and often challenging time for young people, it was refreshing to read about a young person at ease with who they are and who they want to be with.
The opening setting description and the excerpts throughout the book from someone talking about what it is like to live in a haunted house were atmospheric and engaging, however, as we read on, we discover that what haunts the teenagers is not just the famous ghosts in their house. Elsie is being shunned because of rumours about her sexual activity; Dirk is desperately in love with his best friend's older sister; Sal can't help comparing his mum's lack of interest in him with Pax's loving and attentive mother Annie. They all have real, relatable problems. I enjoyed spending time with these characters and I definitely missed them once I finished reading it! This was a lovely debut novel which will be published on the 13th of October 2022.
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book for my impartial review - thank you Chicken House Books!