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Book Review: Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

They say first love never dies…

From critically acclaimed author Kate Ellison comes a heartbreaking mystery of mental illness, unspoken love, and murder. When sixteen-year-old artist Olivia Tithe is visited by the ghost of her first love, Lucas Stern, it’s only through scattered images and notes left behind that she can unravel the mystery of his death.

There’s a catch: Olivia has gone colorblind, and there’s a good chance she’s losing her mind completely—just like her mother did. How else to explain seeing (and falling in love all over again with) someone who isn’t really there?

With the murder trial looming just nine days away, Olivia must follow her heart to the truth, no matter how painful. It’s the only way she can save herself.” (Summary from Goodreads)

Music, art, mental illnes, first love . . . they all come together beautifully in this haunting mystery.

Kate Ellison is the author of The Butterfly Clues, another haunting mystery that looks at the world of OCD with an artistic flair that is hard to describe, but is mesmerizing.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  And Ellison does it again in this new mystery, Notes from Ghost Town.

With only a few days left until her mother’s trial for murder, Olivia (Liv), is visited by the ghost of her best friend and first love, Lucas – the boy they say her mother has killed.  The ghost of Lucas leads her to make a chain of discoveries that may prove that her mother is innocent of this crime, but she is by no means in good mental health.  In fact, even she doesn’t know if she is guilty or not.

An aspiring artist, Olivia finds herself suddenly and inexplicably color blind.  Now she can only see the world in shades of gray.  Does this mean that she will finally descend into the madness that has always haunted her mother?

Notes from Ghost Town is powerful, emotional, and haunting; a touch of Jane Eyre gothic romanticism wafts from page to page as Liv follows the ghost of her first love.  There is a slow build up of tension and then that snap of release as you begin to realize just exactly what happened, and by whom.  There is heartbreak and betrayal.

Where Ellison exceeds, hands down, is in her continued look at mental health issues. It is no small feat to capture what it is like to grow up under the wing of a mentally ill parent and to make the fear that you yourself may be afflicted so incredibly tangible – which Ellison does more successfully than most.  And when Liv loses her ability to see colors, you sense her fear and desperation; it would be to use like becoming suddenly blind or deaf.  If she can no longer do art, then who really is she?  There is such a loss of sense of self that occurs here, palpable and relatable.

Liv is not an easy character to like at times, and she makes a lot of self defeating decisions, especially when it comes to her loss of color sight.  But then it is important to remember that she is in a place of breathtaking fear, both about who she is as a person and what is happening with her mother.  It would be such an overwhelming place to be emotionally.  She develops another relationship with a young man named Austin that is at times hard to embrace, but he plays a critical role in our tale.

Ellison also excels at her sense of timing.  It is just as the two young friends are about to confess their love that Lucas is gone, it is just as she is about to go to college to pursue her art, it is always just as . . . at the most critical moment, the most critical things happen and compel the story forward in interesting and satisfying ways.  Although the timing of individual elements was precise, some of the pacing slows down at points.  Not enough to make you close the book, but enough to make you want for something to happen at times.  Yet at the same time, it is part of that gothic romanticism feel that our tale is wrapped up in so it is hard to be overly critical of this element.

Overall, an intelligent, beautiful and haunting mystery.  3.5 out of 5 stars, definitely recommended.  Definitely pair this up with The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee.

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