Ghosts: Let’s face it, most people who see them (in novels and such), aren’t generally happy about the fact. I’ve always thought: Why? Dude, you’re seeing into a secret world of the dead. That’s kind of cool. But no, they’re usually angsty about it. Seems a bit of a waste to me.
And, critically, to Megan Crewe as well. Crewe’s debut young adult novel Give Up the Ghost turns the ordinary conventions of “I see dead people!” upside down, and puts it in a context where someone with the ability might start seeing all sorts of advantages to seeing ghosts… at least at first.
If you go back to the very beginning, Give Up the Ghost started not with an idea but with an image that popped into my head. There was a teenaged girl sitting in her bedroom, chatting with her older sister about everyday things: clothes, school, parties. In fact, everything about it was everyday except for the fact that the sister was a ghost.
Right away, I was intrigued. Characters who could talk to the dead in other stories almost always seemed to hate their talent. They were scared of the ghosts, or they felt that dealing with them was a hassle. But this girl embraced her ability. I knew she actually preferred hanging out with ghosts instead of the living. And it was in answering why that the story came to life.
Why would a teenager turn her back on the living in favor of the dead? Think about your own high school experiences–is it so hard to imagine? I’m sure even those of us who had a relatively pleasant time saw others who didn’t. The kids who got shunned, or gossiped about, or taunted, or all three. That’s what the living do. But ghosts–ghosts no one can see or hear except for Cass–you couldn’t ask for more loyal friends. They adore her simply for paying attention to them. They can’t turn on her or talk behind her back. They’re safe.
Safe for Cass; not so safe for everyone else. The dead don’t just offer Cass loyalty and company, they also give her a chance to get back at the kids who’ve mistreated her. Invisible to everyone but her, her ghostly friends make the perfect spies. And using the dirt they dig up, Cass can carry out her mission to expose the truth about her classmates’ secret crimes and make them face up to their wrong-doings. After all, it’s better being feared than being victimized.
But that was only the beginning of the story. I needed something–or someone–to challenge Cass and her assumptions. It occurred to me that all of Cass’ ghostly friends were dead when she met them. What if someone she knew was putting his life in danger or considering suicide? Would a dead friend still seem so much better than a living one?
It felt right that this “someone” would be a boy. So my first instinct was to have a romance develop between him and Cass. But as I developed both characters, I realized that neither of them was ready for a romantic relationship. I also realized that the story I wanted to tell wasn’t a love story.
So much of young adult and paranormal fiction focuses on romance, on the wonderful things that come of falling in love, and on the strength of those bonds. And yes, love is grand! But what about other types of bonds? A good friend can be just as meaningful and important to a person’s life as a lover–often more so. I wanted to tell that story: the story of basic human connection, of two people connecting with and supporting each other without being in love. Which is why this is a book in which a girl and a boy meet and start to care about one another and in some ways end up saving each other, and don’t kiss even once.
So I guess what I ended up with isn’t one big idea, but three: a talent embraced, a mission of ghostly justice, and a friendship as powerful as love. Put them together, and you get Give Up the Ghost.