HarperTrophy, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-447278-7
Sixteen-year old Susannah Simon is having some problems in her life. The twenty-year old boy she’s been seeing in her bedroom isn’t interested in doing anything more than that One Special Kiss that one night, a kiss that he seems determined to ignore altogether. She’s trying to fit in in the Junipero Serra Mission Academy in Carmel, California while trying to forget the title Most Likely to Dismember Someone bestowed on her in her previous school in Brooklyn. Her mother married a nice man but Suze isn’t sure about her stepbrothers. And if that’s not enough, the senior hot new kid in school is trying to distract her from her determination to go past first base with the boy in her bedroom.
If this sounds like a typical young adult story, it isn’t. The boy in the bedroom is Hector “Jesse” de Silva, the ghost of a murdered 19th-century kid. Suze is a mediator – someone who can see and talk to ghosts although she’s not sure what she’s supposed to do as a mediator. The new kid, Paul Slater, is an even more powerful mediator who once tried to kill Jesse and Suze before. Welcome to Haunted, the fifth of the six-book series by Meg Cabot, published previously under the name Jenny Carroll.
I haven’t read the previous books in the series but I am able to understand what is going on in this book without any difficulty. I like this story, not because it is in any way an original story, but because Ms Cabot succeeds very well in capturing the young adult voice that actually makes me feel like I’m thirteen again in a good way. It’s been awhile – okay, longer than awhile – since I feel a youthful sense of excitement, sort of like a silly girl spotting the guy she will have a first crush on for the first time, that sort of thing, and this book allows me to experience that feeling vicariously.
The trouble is, the guy that makes me want to grow pigtails and chew them nervously between my teeth is Paul, not Jesse. Jesse and Suze’s romance is tedious. Jesse’s “I can’t love you so I’ll just ignore you and let you assume that I hate you!” nonsense is way played out and I don’t care if adults do this sometimes too – it’s too much of a chore to read about such silly behavior. Suze has some smarts but the plot moves ahead due to several too-stupid actions she takes. She’s not stupid, but she can be gullible when the plot demands her to be.
On the bright side, the secondary characters, such as Suze’s best friend CeeCee and Suze’s stepbrothers are plenty of fun. The best is Paul too. How can I resist such a guy? He’s ambiguously evil, hot as heck, possessive over Suze, and he lives in a big room that came straight from some minimalist artist’s wet dream. Suze can have that boring milquetoast Jesse – come to momma, Paul! Jesse is the kind of guy young girls lose their virginities to because these guys are safe, predictable, and totally unexciting. Paul is the guy these girls move on to after the “Is that it? Kinda boring, isn’t it?” aftermath to discover the true va-va-voom of sex. Seriously, why choose Jesse when there is Paul?
I am intrigued and entertained by Haunted because it is a book that captures the whole “good girl, safe boring good guy, and exciting bad boy” thing perfectly, with a nice (if not too great) touch of paranormal elements. While I am not tempted to pick up the previous books in the series (all Jesse, no Paul – ugh, spare me), I may pick up the next book when it comes out in 2005, if only to find out whether Suze chooses Paul. I know she won’t, but nah, hope springs eternal and there’s a river in Egypt, and there may be hope for all these young ladies out there yet.