By Maureen Tai, 2 April 2018
“I don’t know a whole lot about sunflowers, but I know they’re pretty and girls like them, and I know the word sunflower is made up of two good words, and that man ain’t got two good words in him, or anything that any girl would like, because girls don’t like men who try to shoot them and their son.” – Castle “Cas” Cranshaw
Life-changing childhood events are universal, some benign, some momentous. Castle’s is pretty extreme. As a result, he is an exceptional voice in middle-grade fiction.
Ghost tells the story, first-hand, of a troubled near-teen, struggling to recover from the night his drunken father attempts to shoot him and his mother as they flee from the family home. Cas lives in a real rough part of town. He describes the surrounding nastiness in an innocent, matter-of-fact way, just as he describes the events that unfold over the few short weeks from the time he is recruited into a track team to the seconds before his first ever track race. Cas’ voice is both child-like and street-smart, alternating between angry and hopeful, full of joy and deep in fear, but always authentic.
Cas isn’t a born saint. He’s a messed-up kid, trying to live each day without getting into too much trouble. He’s frustrating but likeable. What saves him are the handful of caring grown-ups who keep him on the right track: his chick-flick obsessed mother whom he adores, the gnarled proprietor of the corner shop where Cas gets a steady supply of sunflower seeds, his long-suffering school principal and ultimately, his track coach, who Cas discovers he has more in common with than he thinks. What lifts him up are his team-mates who are all facing forward despite their struggles with their own childhood demons.
Castle’s story ends at page 180, but it doesn’t end really. We know he’s cool and he’s heading for great things.
For ages 10 and above.