Ghosts are real, and don’t let anybody tell you differently. With all the emphasis on vampires, werewolves, and zombies lately, there hasn’t been an honest-to-goodness representation of ghosts in YA since JK Rowling deftly dealt with them in Harry Potter (can you tell I’m a big fan?), but even then the focus wasn’t on the ghosts. In Ruined, a novel by Paula Morris, one of the primary characters has passed into the beyond, but is still hanging around for a reason.
If you’re into New Orleans’ culture and you don’t feel like reading a history book or hopping on a flight to Louisiana, one of the best ways to interact with it is through Ruined. The book tackles the subjects of justice, forgiveness, and vindication. Oh yes, and it also has ghosts, always a bonus when dealing with a motif of retribution, which is what the book revolves around in the end, even if it tries to avoid the subject at the same time.
Rebecca is a transplant into New Orleans from the grand city of New York, sent there by her father for obscure reasons that she doesn’t spend enough time trying to figure out. Sure, she superficially believes she will be returning to the City soon, but her father has left her with a strange woman who is her “aunt” but isn’t actually related to her. We find out early on that the woman is a tarot card reader, which isn’t strange for New Orleans, surely, but which also doesn’t fit with him leaving her in good hands.
As a protagonist, Rebecca has all the characteristics necessary to succeed. She is faced with the unenviable task of trying to fit in where everyone already knows each other and the lines are clearly drawn, where old families rule and everyone else tries to keep up or keep out of their way. But coming from New York City, Rebecca has a brash side that bristles at being shoved into a box, so she pushes against those limitations. I love this about her, and it’s really the only thing that kept me reading the book after the first chapter. And I’m glad I kept reading.
What the book lacks in explanation for Rebecca being in New Orleans in the first place, it more than makes up for once the ghost, Lisette, makes her appearance. Her character is well fleshed out and it is through her that we see New Orleans how it used to be (this book presumes the time period as post-Katrina), but also how it used to be in the really old days when Lisette was young and became a ghost in the first place. She and Rebecca become fast friends, which is when the action really takes off. From that point on this book has intrigue and complicated motivations, punctuated by a major decision (possibly two) at the very end.
I recommend Ruined to anyone who is into history and family politics, and even though it has the ghosts I mentioned before, they don’t overwhelm the plot like zombies tend to do in similar situations. I also recommend it to readers who enjoyed Beautiful Creatures, another book about the supernatural that doesn’t only live in that supernatural world.
I give the novel FOUR AND A HALF stars.