Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it's a place where strange things happen. Even if they won't admit it. Bethan would prefer to be anywhere but here. Jay has his theories, but isn't ready to share. Hashim sees more than he'll say, while Kelly's demons are all too flesh and blood. But Emily's freak-out brings them out of denial and face to face with the supernatural. Anywhere else, Friday night would be date night. But not in Weirdsville…
Ready to be freaked out? Thought so. This little number from Harper Collins Children's Department winged its way to me recently. Now, scary books have to be read at night. So that's what I did with this one. Not quite expecting to freak out quite as much as I did. (Case in point, Mark unexpectedly knocking on the door during the big-ass revelation towards the end of the book, as I was lying on the couch, close to midnight. I think I may have levitated a few centimetres off the couch!)
Our four main characters are swiftly introduced: Bethan, the intelligent girl with the black nailpolish and the wish to live anywhere but here; Kelly, scariest girl in town, quite pretty but with a mouth and attitude on her that scares everyone, except the guy who wants her dead; Jay, geeky kid who knows random things about random things and finally, Hashim, athlete and soccer star who's probably more clever than he lets on and also, a good guy.
It is when Emily, the most quiet, the most mousy and the most unnoticed girl in school pipes up with a confession during English class (they were discussing Hamlet, what with the ghosts and witches and such) and confesses that she's heard a ghost, in her home, that kickstarts Nearly Departed. Alarm bells went off in my head. For a shy character to do something so out of the ordinary, and out of character, knowing the ridicule and vitriol she was exposing herself to, jolted me out of my comfort zone and I realised as a reader, something “other” was going on here. No one will voluntarily say or do something like this to stand out from a crowd, not someone as painfully shy as this girl has been shown to be.
With some clever canoodling by the teacher, Kelly, Jay, Hashin, Bethan and Emily are grouped together to rewrite scenes from Hamlet - updating to be read in modern language. Of course Jay’s over the moon, here’s a chance to figure out if Emily has really heard a ghost. Using amazing persuasive powers, he manages to convince Emily, Kelly and Bethan to meet up after school to talk this through. Hashim legs it, not keen to take part in it.
I’d like to point out here that Ms. Hasting’s has managed to get the dialogue and attitude of these teens just right! I loved the sarcastic comments, snide remarks and temper tantrums - they felt fantastically real and fun to read. It lent a credibility to the characters which I enjoyed exploring.
Out of the whole group, my favourite character has to be Hashim. He just comes across as too cool - but down to earth at the same time, a tough contradiction to bring across. Kelly undergoes the biggest transformation as the story progresses and Jay has to come to terms with some hard family truths (which surprised me and pleased me) whilst Bethan realises that there is more to her than she expected and that Weirdsville needs heroes.
Nearly Departed is a clever book. I should have seen the twist in the tale a mile off but I was so involved, nose to the page, that it took me utterly by surprise. It’s definitely aimed at the older range of young adult readers - purely for the fright factor, I’d say. Also, is a lovely looking book and hopefully ones that boys won’t be too worried about picking up because, at it’s core, Nearly Departed is very much an adventure - an overcoming the monster novel and discovering your destiny type of novel.
To be fair, there is very little on the negative side I would even consider saying about Nearly Departed. Sometimes, you read a book and it just gels so well together, you look back at it and you think: wow, I wish I didn’t read that so that I can read it all over again, afresh, anew, because it’s such fun. This is the case here. My only gripe: I thought it started a bit slow but to be honest, after the initial slowness it picked up pace and shook me around like a ragdol.
A word of warning though: it’s scary. I’m not someone who scares easy but this one...it freaked me a little!
Nearly Departed is out now. Go buy a copy and love Rook Hastings before everyone else!