The Ghost Job, by Greg Van Eekhout (with interview!)

Greg Van Eekhout is one of the authors who gets shelf space in my much beloved, still new and shiny, built-in bookshelf of which this is only a small section:

(Although this post is supposed to be a book review with bonus interview, I'd like to take the time to note the pleasing progression from Kelly Barnhill to William Alexander to Greg's books....Stephanie Burgis is perhaps not the right continuation, though, and I may have to tweak...and of course all of these authors are still writing (yay!) and I need to go back and buy the ones I don't already have when funds allow (built in bookshelves aren't cheap) so in a few years someone will have to be moved in any event...I can imagine, for instance, a whole Stephanie Burgis shelf which would take care of the question about who should go next to her.)

In any event, the newest arrival in the very choice Greg Van Eekhout section is The Ghost Job (Sept 26, 2023, HarperCollins), which I enjoyed very much!  It's the story of Zenith and her three best friends who fall victim to a freak middle school science lab accident.  Although being dead stinks, at least they have each other. 

 But when they hear of a machine that might be able to bring them back to life, they are determined to steal it from the unscrupulous necromancer using it for his own financial gain.  But not only is the machine well-guarded, they soon realize the necromancer wants to bottle their own ghostly essences for his stockpile of spirits....

Each of the kids has their own particular ghostly ability that makes them a great time to carry out this heist of a death-time.  Zenith can move physical things, Nicholas can make himself heard by the living, Vanessa can send her vision into the eyes of paintings and photographs from outside of buildings, and Eddie, who already had an affinity for the mechanical, now feels electric currents and the like in his ghostly body.  But even with these helpful heist advantages, it's touch and go....

There is great ghost action and adventure here, but there's a thoughtful, heart-tugging side of it too.  The kids, after all, are ghosts, and though they have each other, it is fundamentally a sad situation.  Ethical and moral questions are raised as well, giving the reader interesting food for thought.  All in all, an excellent read!

I got to ask Greg some questions about the book, which was nice for me.

How did the premise of Ghost Job come to you?

I was hard at work lying on the couch with my eyes closed, trying to decide if I wanted to write about heists or ghosts, and then the first line of the book came to me: "Ghosts are great thieves" and it was like boom, there's the book. Then I started working even harder and an hour later I woke up and had a glass of milk.

These are your first middle grade ghosts, and I'm wondering if the ghostly part apparated in your mind more or less intact, or if it required deep thought about things ghosts can make and do. And speaking of what ghosts can do, each character has a unique skill, with Zenith, the pov character, having poltergeist powers. It's essential for the plot that this is her skill, and I'm curious about whether you had to do a lot of making power fit plot, or vice versa, or if you knew from the start that Zenith would need to be able to do what she does? (and if you were a middle school ghost, which of the skills would you pick as your own?)

Ghost powers are pretty straightforward -- being invisible, walking through walls, etc. But stories about thieves who pull complicated heists generally feature specialists. You need a mastermind, you need muscle, you need a tech nerd, and so on. So I chose the specialities my ghost crew needed, assigned each character one of those roles, and then crafted their personalities to fit.

The main character, Zenith, is the muscle. She's a poltergeist who can move objects in the physical world. If I were a middle school ghost I'd want Zenith's powers just because there's so much potential to help people lift heavy objects, plus pranks.

One of the things that doesn't get a lot of explicit page time is the crushing grief of being sundered from family, though it's clearly something Zenith is feeling. Was the process of grief titration (enough so that it's there, not so much that readers get bogged down in a morass of sadness) tricky for you?

The grief and loss were the trickiest parts to write. I wanted to write a fun story about ghosts who steal stuff, but I couldn't ignore that a ghost is someone who's died, and death is horribly sad for those left behind, and if there is such a thing as a ghost, it must be sad for them too. So I aimed to find the right mix of jokes and adventure and hijinks while also respecting the emotional consequences of the concept.

There are so many themes and metaphors and messages that can be found in the story....do you have any such thing in particular that you hope young readers can take away?

Nobody gets through life without some hardship and loss, and I know of nothing that alleviates pain better than friends and love and laughter. Everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends. Just like the REM song.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do I believe in spectral presences that visit us and speak to us and interact with our physical environment? No. But do I believe our bodies and minds and the environments around us can combine in ways that make us feel like there are ghosts messing around with us? Absolutely. Unless it's Halloween. On Halloween I totally believe in ghosts. Especially when I'm alone. In the dark. In a graveyard...

Thanks Greg!

nb--The Ghost Job is eligible for this year's Cybils Awards, and hasn't been nominated yet.  Here's where you can go nominate this one or many other fine books still awaiting their nod!  Cybils nominations are a great way to show love for your favorite books and authors!

disclaimer: review copy recieved from the publishers 


  1. When I read "who fall victim to a freak middle school science lab accident", I was not expecting it to be followed by "Although being dead stinks"! What a bold premise. I appreciate that you were able to ask Van Eekhout where the idea came from, haha. Sounds like another hit from him.

    1. yep! it's a good one, although Cog is still my favorite....


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