A “Grave”ly Enjoyable Ghost Story
My eighth grade English teacher taught me most of what I believed about writing, until fairly recently. Many conventions are dropping out with modern writers, and at the crusty old age of 42, I am sometimes irritated by the lack of respect these whippersnappers seem to have for our fine literary traditions. LOL. Obviously, as an Irreverent blogger, I do not believe in convention just for convention’s sake. I do believe we all need to agree on the structures and conventions of language. If everyone wants to have only one “your” and not “you’re” AND “your”….. Well, I was going to say if everyone agreed, I’d go along, but there are simply some things about which I will go down fighting. My grammar is, I am certain, not perfect; however, I know the difference between “taut” abs and a subject I was “taught” in school.
One of the conventions that I picked up at that time, that seemed immutable to me, was that third person, past tense, omniscient narration literature was the loftiest form, and that everything else was rather juvenile. And no one wrote in present tense. When the trend of writing in the first person first became popular, it irritated me. I’ve grown to accept it, and sometimes like it, although it is hard to break the idea that the author’s name should be Mary Sue. The slightly more recent trend of writing in present tense snuck up on me. I didn’t know how to take it. However, I have come to believe I like it, although I can’t do it myself. I feel it lends a frantic immediacy to a work. Why am I telling you all this?
I just finished a book called The Grave Artist, by Paula Lynn Johnson. It’s written in first person, present tense. Here is the author’s blurb to tell you a bit about it:
“16-year-old Clare can’t stop drawing the bizarre, winged skulls she calls “Sammies”. Her psychiatrist assumes the compulsive drawings are just expressions of Clare’s grief over her father abandoning her. But then Clare discovers that her Sammies are exact matches for the Death’s Head on the grave of Samantha Forsythe, a teen who reportedly fell to her death over two centuries ago.
Before long, Clare’s drawings morph into cryptic writings that urge her to uncover the truth behind Samantha’s death. Together with Neil — the friend she might be falling for — Clare scours the local history for clues. She finds that, although Samantha was engaged to a wealthy landowner, there were whispered rumors of her involvement with a younger, biracial man.
Soon, Clare is haunted by disturbing dream images — a mysterious eye, a broken chain — that point to someone Samantha called her “Dearest”. But who is Dearest? And why does Samantha need Clare to find him so badly?
Isolated and carrying hidden scars of her own, Clare fears her obsession with Samantha will threaten her sanity and safety. But it seems she has no choice in the matter . . .”
With a 16-year-old protagonist, the work is automatically considered YA by many, although I will be glad if that convention goes away. We were all 16 once. I refuse to believe that we cannot remember and empathize with young people in our literature. The WILD popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight with adults, as well as ‘tweens and teens, seems to contradict this idea. As a lover of all sorts of literature, I have kept up somewhat with books for children and young adults, and I think both have much to offer the adult reader.
With that said, I think that The Grave Artist is an excellent paranormal mystery that just happens to have youthful characters. Ms. Johnson creates realistic characters, an intriguing mystery, and subplots which highlight human frailties and problems, not those specifically experienced by teens. Clare and Neil are believable as people, who happen to be young. Let’s just leave it at that.
I feel that the present tense gives the exact sense of immediacy intended, and that the book rushes along because of it. It seems to fly by, not through any lack, but with intention of helping you understand Clare’s emotional state. I feel it is successful in that way, and in all other ways that count. There are touching bits, and funny bits, and the whole simply satisfies. On the Imaqulotta Scale, I’d rate The Grave Artist as Heavenly!