Ghosts of the Titanic, by Julie Lawson, for Timeslip Tuesday

Ghosts of the Titanic, by Julie Lawson (Holiday House, originally published in Canada in 2011; reprinted in the US, with some revisions, in February 2012, upper middle grade)

At daybreak on April 21, 1912, the crew of a cable ship began to pull up the bodies floating on the cold water where the Titanic sank—hundreds of bodies, floating all around them. In the horror of the days that followed, the youngest crew member, Angus Seaton, made a mistake. He pocketed a purse from a drowned young woman hauled up from the water, not meaning to keep it, but forgetting protocol in the horror of the moment. For some years, he kept the purse unopened, living peacefully enough by the seas edge near Halifax. But then he looked inside, and saw the photographs of the woman and her baby…and her ghost came looking for the lost child, incessantly asking the same questions…

"Where’s Michael?”
“What has become of my precious boy?”
“Does he weep for me in the green-black deep?”
“Does he walk on land, searching for me?"
“How will he know me?”

Angus has no answer, and when he at last dies, he has been maddened by desperate regret.

Years later, a boy named Kevin comes to live in Angus’ old house. He's the class clown, a disappointment to his soccer obsessed dad, just a kid still, though growing up…and fascinated by the Titanic. And Kevin begins to hear the same questions that tormented Angus… and the drowned woman herself appears to him...but of course he knows nothing of the mystery, and must put the pieces of the past together before he can have any chance of helping the maddening, incessant, desperate ghost that no one else can hear or see.

At last Kevin is lead by the ghost back in time, to the Titanic on the evening it sank. There he must find out the fate of the lost child…or follow Angus into madness. And though this time travel part of the book is a short part of what is essentially a ghost story, it is very well done! Of course the sinking Titanic gives lots of scope for horror and terror, but Lawson does an nice job integrating Kevin's more personal desperation--save the child so as to lay the ghost to rest!-- into the mix.

The book as a whole is one that, though I found it engrossing, fell just a teensy bit short of what I think it might have been (this is me being an adult reader, considering to what extent I'd recommend this one to other adult readers!). There's considerable repetition in the ghost element (the drowned woman asks the same questions over and over) and in some of the descriptions of the Titanic side of things (once several whole sentences are repeated in the description of the bodies floating on the water) and though this to some extent underlines the horror, and is part of the way in which the characters are driven to the brink of madness, it made me a little twitchy. But that could be a personal reaction based on mood, and some other reader could find the underlining makes the story even more powerful. I was also not quite convinced of the reconciliation between Kevin and his father, a sub-plot of the larger story that seemed a tad perfunctory.

These reservations aside, however, I did find it a Good Read (though not one I'd go out of my way to recommend to the aforementioned adult readers!). The point of view shifts between Kevin and Angus, effectively merging the past and the present, and like I said, it's a nice bit of time travel. I think this is a great one to offer the eleven or twelve year old boy who likes ghost stories. Of course, it's an obvious one to give to the boy fascinated by all the great Titanic non-fiction books for kids out there! Kevin is the sort of kid many boys might easily relate to, or recognize, and the ghost element is scary! I tried really hard to sell it to my own 11 year old, but he frustratingly rejected it. I will keep trying--I do think it has lots of kid appeal.

(there are no reviews on Amazon yet; I think I'll go over and give it four stars (which I think it pretty good, star wise, though I hate starring in general); it should hit the spot with the right reader...)


  1. Hey! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. It has been some time since I've read one of the authors books...seems like this would be a good one to revisit her with, being a huge fan of the titanic and the authors earlier books!

  2. Thanks for the review, Charlotte. And thanks, Deb, for your comments. Nice to hear that you're a fan of my earlier books!


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