Forgotten brothers, lost children, and the deep bonds of family and forgiveness come together with a touch of the supernatural in Ansari’s ghostly middle-grade thriller.
Twelve-year-old Charlie’s younger brother, Liam, has disappeared, but Charlie is the only one who remembers that he ever existed. For a year, Charlie has watched his family steadily fall apart in his brother’s absence: his mother slipping further into her depression, his father constantly away on business, and Charlie himself sitting through endless (and useless) therapy sessions and enduring vivid nightmares of century-old tragedies. His only solace is his best friend, who believes Charlie about Liam even if she also doesn’t remember him, and a young new baseball coach who tells Charlie of a hidden home for children so burdened by regret that they wish themselves never born—a tale that holds not only the answers to Liam’s disappearance and Charlie’s dreams, but a great deal more. Ansari trusts her audience with a complex narrative that traverses the breadth of time and the depths of self. The weave of guilt, family struggle, and forgiveness both complicates and complements questions of love and self-acceptance. The tiresome trope of the self-hating gay character briefly rears its head, and the romanticization of Mom’s depression veers away from what could be a fully nuanced representation—a few flaws that mar an otherwise excellent debut. The book assumes a white default.
Plot twists that’ll turn even veteran readers’ heads. (Supernatural mystery. 11-14)