In Rosengard’s new-adult debut novel, a college student searches for the person responsible for her best friend’s death—with a little help from a familiar ghost.
Nineteen-year-old Callie McCayter escapes a gloomy life in Houston by attending Astoria College in the Pacific Northwest. She’s rooming with childhood friend Izzy Miller, whose parents took Callie in when it became clear her alcoholic father, a cop, was abusing her. But tragedy strikes during the friends’ sophomore year: Izzy is killed by a car in a hit-and-run as she’s walking home from a party in the middle of the night. Callie’s resultant despair causes her to miss numerous classes, and she may lose her scholarships, as a result. Then, one day, she sees the ghost of Izzy in their room. Her late friend doesn’t speak but instead uses lipstick to write a message on a mirror: “HELP ME.” Callie becomes determined to solve the mystery of what happened the night of Izzy’s death; she not only wants to find out the identity of the unknown driver, but also who’s to blame for the fact that Izzy was walking alone on a dark road. This entails interrogating four students who showed up to the party with Izzy and who apparently didn’t care that she was uncharacteristically drunk. Meanwhile, Callie, who normally abstains from dating, becomes attracted to two very different guys—seemingly meek Colin Turner and 20-something campus security officer Jay Houghten, an ex-Marine. Soon, she starts to experience Izzy’s memories, and, as a result, she starts to uncover quite a few secrets.
Rosengard thoroughly develops her paranormal mystery plot, but the heart of the tale is Callie’s growing fortitude. She’s initially despondent after Izzy dies, but she eventually becomes determined to pinpoint every important detail of that fateful night. As the story progresses, readers learn of Callie’s other strengths, including her training in self-defense, stemming from her experiences with her dad. Much of the narrative centers on the aforementioned romantic triangle; both of the young men are enticing but flawed, making Callie’s choice understandably difficult. But they also have ties to the greater mystery—and they may be withholding important information from Callie about the party. Izzy’s ghostly appearances are sporadic and cryptic enough that Callie is left to unravel the whodunit mostly on her own. However, Callie’s memory-visions of Izzy’s experiences add a startling element, as they reveal a less-than-pleasant side of her friend. In one memory, for example, Izzy is irate when her mother gives Callie special attention. The mystery contains a handful of other shocking twists, although many readers will likely see a few of them coming. However, the author’s grasp of Callie’s first-person voice is sensational: The teenager endlessly debates with herself and harps on her own shortcomings, such as her tendency to distance herself from potential friends and romantic interests. She does acknowledge and work on overcoming her weaknesses, though—and readers will definitely see her virtues even when she doesn’t.
A supernatural tale with a strong, engaging protagonist.