Lola: A Ghost Story

Jessie is a middle-school-aged boy from Canada who travels with his parents to The Philippines to attend the funeral of his clairvoyant Lola (grandmother). While staying at the family’s ancestral home, he becomes reacquainted with his cousins, one of whom (Jon Jon) died tragically at some point prior to this visit. Jessie struggles to understand and appreciate his ability to see ghosts–a talent his living Filipino cousin Maritess has always longed to have inherited from their Lola. Maritess imparts all of her knowledge on the subject to Jessie in the hopes he will embrace his gifts, and stop hiding them.

Earnest Or’s smooth and minimal illustrations are sepia-toned from start to finish, giving the story a memory-like quality. The clean lines used for the sweet-faced characters and serene settings lie in stark contrast to the gory visions of decimated corpses that appear to Jessie (and Jessie alone).  I especially appreciated how real the relationships felt. For example, the cousins must reestablish their bonds after a long absence, and do so. And in a spooky scene about Jessie and Maritess in the woods at night, his dad is in the background keeping his grief-stricken uncle company (and giving Jessie’s Aunt a much-needed break from her husband’s drinking).

The family’s bonds are tested again and again, not only by time and distance, but by a plethora of adversity like trauma, grief, substance abuse, and cultural clashes. Through it all, they are there for each other even when they part.

A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl

Tess de Costa hears a voice that no one else can. When this voice tells her to save a local fisherman, everyone one in her town starts to treat her like a real life saint. They come to her for blessings and prayers and attribute all kinds of “miracles” to her.  After Tess tragically dies, her mother leads the charge for the pope to officially recognize her sainthood, but the two people who knew Tess best, her sister Callie and Tess’s secret boyfriend Danny, feel this is betrayal of her memory. They remember Tess as someone who wanted to be a normal teen and only reluctantly carried the unfair expectations of an entire town. Danny and Callie set out together to sabotage the process and prove Tess was not a saint, which leads them to confront some hard truths about themselves, old family secrets, and the tragic mystery behind the kidnapping of a local girl.

A Psalm for Lost Girls doesn’t give any easy answers. Bayerl address a number of difficult issues from grief to mental illness with the thoughtfulness and gravity they deserve. Every character is vivid and feels like someone you know. Bayerl combines all this in a highly readable and fast-paced story. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Lauren Oliver will want to check this out.

Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley

This heartfelt and quixotic road trip novel finds Fella and Zany
on their way to Asheville NC in Mama Shannon’s car to release their beloved Mama Lacey’s ashes. They are grieving more than their mother: since each girl was born to a different mom in the couple, the (pre-June 2015) law separates them at Lacey’s death, so they lost their family, too. Sarah Dooley writes beautifully and sometimes hilariously about grief, finding your voice and empathy. Don’t miss this book — a sweet mixture of Thelma and Louise and As I Lay Dying in a novel just right for summer!

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