The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett

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The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A beautiful and troubling fable about the search for love. It's as difficult to categorise as Hartnett's work always is, but it will appeal most to keen and sensitive readers, no matter what their age.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 140631319X

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What is the most beautiful thing in the world?

Do you know? Is there a most beautiful thing? Or does everyone have their own most beautiful thing? This is the question Maddy's father asks her, and he take her on a trip around the world's most fabulous places before she gives her answer. Years later, long after her father has died and when Maddy is an old lady, she comes home from walking her dog to find a strange young boy sitting on her sofa. And as Maddy begins to tell him the story of her life, her true answer is gradually revealed.

But what we really want to know is the identity of the boy. And for that, we must wait until the very last page.

Left field as ever, Sonya Hartnett uses fable motifs in this startlingly unusual book. And as ever, it's difficult to pin her down. The Ghost's Child is about an old lady looking back on a doomed love affair on the surface, but underneath it's all about the search for beauty, meaning and fulfilment. Maddy's love for Feather, a boy she met on the beach, was intense and overpowering. But it was also a chain around her neck. Feather needed more. He had an unquenchable desire that he couldn't share, and their love was a fleeting thing. When it was over, Maddy couldn't let go.

And her loss defined her life. We follow her in fairy tale territory, talking to the West Wind and visiting enchanted islands. But we can recognise the emotional landscape, which is universal and common to every human being. It's poetic, full of dense and complex imagery and it feels meditative. Hartnett defies convention and this book offers something to everyone - we find it on the young adult shelves and it appeals to the romanticism of teenagers, but any adult who has loved and lost will find a great deal of meaning.

I haven't said a great deal - but what else is there to say? We all understand Maddy's search. We all search ourselves. And The Ghost's Child is a beautiful expression of that search. So read it.

My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.

Younger readers might enjoy the big themes in That's Life, Lily by Valerie Dayre. Older readers might enjoy Angel by Cliff McNish, which is all about personal spirituality.

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