Nothing But Ghosts, by Beth Kephart

Nothing But Ghosts, by Beth Kephart (HarperTeen, YA, 288pp).

Behind the varnish of the painting Katie's father is restoring lies one man's vision of regret; alone, working late into the night, her father finds the figments of the painting, reading them through the shadows. In a beautiful garden, another man has hired a crew of diggers to chip through the rock hard earth, excavating a long ago story that Katie, one of the group working in the hot summer sun to make the hole deeper, doesn't yet know. And Katie is looking to the past herself, to the days when she had a mother who made each day a more beautiful thing.

Her mother died. The owner of the garden, Miss Martine, locked herself away in it years ago. The rainbow shadows of her mother's glass bottles dance on the walls of a closed-off bedroom, and Katie doesn't know how to find the line between darkness and sunlight, the line between the ghosts of the past and her lonely life in the present.

As the hole deepens, so does Katie's compulsion to find Miss Martine's story. If she can understand how a beautiful teenager, with everything to live for, chose to leave life, maybe she can understand her own mother's absence. Seven boxes of Local Lore, unsorted and unasked for, sit at the library, and give Katie her own path to solving the mystery that is haunting her summer.

So. That's the basic plot. But you have to read it in Beth Kephart's own writing; I can't do it justice. It is so deeply imbued with metaphor, so rich in imagery, that re-reading (which I just did, after a six month gap) is a great pleasure. It is so unconcerned with Things Happening that the characters have space to be themselves, so concerned with the small things happening (pancakes being made, rain falling, the hard squeeze of a child's hand) that they have a real place in which to live. And it is sad, and powerful, and hopeful. My one quibble is that the resolution to the mystery felt a bit hurried at the end, and the central figure in that part of the plot never quite, in my mind, became a real person.

Despite that (very small) reservation, Nothing But Ghosts is a lovely YA book to read if you are perhaps satiated with plot-driven teen romance, and want a book whose emotional power comes from the deeply-felt interior world of the central character. Although there is a cute boy thrown in for good measure...

House of Dance is still my favorite of Beth Kephart's books, but this is possibly because the story of that one--the loss of a grandfather--is one I have lived through myself.

Tonight (June 30) My Friend Amy is hosting a party to celebrate the release of Nothing But Ghosts: "We will have a reading from Beth and at 9 PM EST/6 PM PST Beth will be here live chatting on the blog! So you'll get a chance to talk to the woman herself and what a special woman she is. Additionally, you may have a chance to win an autographed copy of Nothing But Ghosts."

As part of the party, Amy has organized a book drive to promote the book, with a goal of 200 copies sold by 9:00 EST tonight (and prizes!) If you'd like to be one of the 200, head here to find more information, and the link through which to buy.

Here's another review and interview at Presenting Lenore, and more reviews at From My Bookshelf, Em's Bookshelf, and The Compulsive Reader.

(ARC received from the author)


  1. Sounds really interesting. I may have to place this one on my list. Thanks :)

  2. I'm definitely placing this one on my list - it sounds like a good fine. Great review!

  3. This is such a wonderful book - I loved it. And Beth K. is amazing.

    :-D Anna

  4. Wonderful review. I do love this book! :)


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