By Andrew Norriss
David Fickling Books
ISBN 978 1910 2003 39s
Most of the ghosts in YA fiction have evil plans when they waft into the human world. But the ghost of teenager Jessica Fry is very different from what you might expect a ghost to be or to do.
Jessica knows she is dead, but doesn't know why she is still trapped on Earth in spirit form. All she wants is for someone to show or tell her what to do next. When she sits next to a boy called Francis one day, things take a very unexpected turn.
Francis, to their mutual surprise, seems to be the only person who can actually see Jessica. He knows she is dead, but doesn't mind because the two of them get on so well. They are soon chatting away as if they have known each other for ever.
Francis is a bit of a loner who doesn't do friends, but this is different. Jessica decides to stick around with this lonely, shy young man and see what happens.
But it turns out Francis isn't the only teen who can see Jessica. Next along is Andi, a girl who lives down the street. Andi is a social outsider who has been expelled from a string of schools because of aggressive behaviour. As she says about her last school: "If you were short and ugly and looked a complete idiot in school uniform, it was hell." Without questioning what is happening or why, these three different personalities strike up such a strong friendship.
The fourth member of the group is Roland, a young man so terrified of other teens that he won't go to school at all. Andi - bright, intelligent and determined - decides to find out how Jessica died and what it is that has brought the four of them together. What she discovers is dark, worrying and extremely emotional.
Jessica's Ghost is a moving story, but its themes are far from fictitious. It deals with teenage depression, loneliness, and many other dark issues that young people deal with.
This might not sound like a novel anyone would read for pleasure, but Andrew Norriss is a witty and entertaining writer who knows how to keep his readers turning pages. The four protagonists in Jessica's Ghost are wonderful creations, and it is their struggle as social outcasts that drives the story along.
Funny, clever and never sappy or sentimental, this outstanding read shows how friendship can change sad and desperate lives, and how black clouds can be dispersed.
Jessica's Ghost is a thoughtful, amusing and beautifully crafted novel that shouldn't be missed.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com