Kicking off the second week of the KYD YA Championship, Jordi Kerr discusses the YA book that has lovingly haunted her, Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child.
People can be broken in so many ways. By illness or injury. By the loss of love. By a good book.
The Ghost’s Child is a book that will break you, in the best possible way. It tells of the life of Matilda Victoria Adelaide, alternating between 75-year-old Matilda recounting her story to an uninvited visitor in the form of a young boy, and ‘Maddy’ as a young girl. It is a story tinged with magic, told with the gravitas of a fable. It is a story about journeys, about hope and futility, beauty and peace, love and loss.
The first time I read The Ghost’s Child, I strongly identified with Maddy (and cried profusely). I was caught in the chaos of an unrequited, grown-up love of my own, and Maddy’s desire for an adult life, the trimmings and facets of it, resonated with me. Maddy wants to build a life with her love, Feather – a wild man that she finds at the beach. Feather’s origins are unknown and probably magical. Yet Maddy tries to suppress anything magical, such as her mythical companion, the nargun, in a desperate attempt to validate her relationship with Feather to the outside world. A “proper” relationship needs a house. A fence. A tidy garden. Maddy subscribed to this contradictory belief that if you have these real-world things, everything will magically be okay.
Maddy stopped confiding in the nargun, because she had no time for anything that wasn’t necessary and real. – p 81
Rereading The Ghost’s Child in order to write this post I identified with Feather as much as Maddy herself. (And still cried profusely.) Now I am a little older, and perhaps a little wiser. I have experienced enough of love that I can see both sides more clearly: the strengths, the failings, and the attempts by both individuals to live truthfully. I have recently been broken by an autoimmune disease and am grieving. I am reframing and rethinking my relationships, my direction, my life – and have again found The Ghost’s Child a fitting source of identification.
Life is not a story, and things don’t always turn out as you’d prefer. That doesn’t mean you have failed, though. – p 173
There’s a reason Hartnett won the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. All of her works have beautifully crafted phrasings, sentences which are artworks in themselves. Nor is she afraid to tackle the deep and dark parts of life, which are often shied away from in YA literature, as though life itself were as discerning. With a single sentence, writers can reach into the core of you and hold your beating heart in their hand. Hartnett not only does this, but once she has a grip she squeezes. The Ghost’s Child, though just under 200 pages, is particularly dense with such moments.
She did not know how far a child should be invited into the world of his elders. With its hard laws and complicated outcomes, the grown-up world was not a good place for children. – p 93
Like all good YA books, The Ghost’s Child is as compelling for adults as it is for teen readers. It will make you feel heavier than you thought possible, make you want to remove your heart and hand its burden to somebody else. It perfectly captures and articulates insecurity, grief and depression. Yet it will also make you inexplicably grateful that you have this weight to bear. Its tale wraps around you like a warm blanket. It delivers reassurance, and it illuminates the importance of hope, of choice and of living.
People can be healed in so many ways. By possessing a sense of purpose. By the love of another. By a good book.
Jordi Kerr is a freelance writer with a passion for YA novels, films, and fantasy. Her day job is at the Centre for Youth Literature, championing great YA to teens, and supporting the amazing teachers, librarians, and literacy professionals who work with young readers. You can learn more about her freelance work at www.jordikerr.com, or can stalk her on Twitter @WritingJordi.
If you want The Ghost’s Child to win the KYD YA Championship, you can cast your vote for it here! Vote now and you can also go into the draw to win some amazing prizes.