Death is no barrier to lesbian love in this YA supernatural romance.
Cassie is a shy, bookish New Orleans junior high student who feels alienated from her churchy parents and almost everything that goes on in school, especially the crushes her classmates are constantly gushing about. Her only real friend is Gem, a girl who looks about 15 years old; likes to wear a Boy Scout shirt, green skirt, and fishnets; and has haunted Cassie’s house for the two decades or so since she was murdered there in 1969. The schoolgirl and the ghost become soul mates and talk about everything, including Gem’s history with a girl named Daze, her “Hellcat” lover in reform school before their relationship ended in blood and fire. Cassie and Gem eventually come out to each other. After Cassie enters high school, they kindle a passion that progresses from making out to sex that is fully carnal (though demurely described) despite Gem’s lack of corporeal substance. Alas, the world just won’t let them be. After she slashes a homophobic bully and tells unbelieving adults about Gem, Cassie is packed off to Chose People Ministries, a coercive Christian therapeutic group that specializes in curing kids of gay sexuality and ghost delusions. There, she is subjected to aversive electroconvulsive treatments while viewing Sapphic pornography and pictures of specters. Jannerson’s (Thanks for Nothing, 2018, etc.) winsome yarn handles its magical realism in a vivid but matter-of-fact, no-jump-scare fashion, with the only horrors being those of religious intolerance and psychiatric abuse. Her treatment of gay sexuality is likewise positive and nonspooky. She nicely evokes the visceral wrongness Cassie feels dancing with a boy—“As the song progressed, Mackey’s hands drifted lower, and a nauseous lump formed in my throat”—and the giddy rightness she feels with Gem. The author at times brings a little too much maturity to the story: 13-year-old Cassie sometimes sounds like a 24-year-old graduate student—“both the activity and the actual notes felt, in the end, disingenuous,” she sighs when kids sign her seventh grade yearbook—and the third act bogs down in mundane relationship issues as college proves a direr threat than electroconvulsive therapy to Cassie and Gem’s love. Still, Jannerson’s appealing characters, deft prose, and psychological insights will hold readers’ attention.
An entertaining fantasy that nicely balances some ghostly melodrama with whimsy, teen wish fulfillment, and coming-of-age lessons.