Marr’s collection comprises six short stories aimed at young readers interested in aliens and ghosts (which in turn comprises just about all young readers, one would imagine).
Fantasy writer Marr (Born in the Darkest Time of the Year, 2004, etc.) has done a good job depicting the troubles and traumas that preteens and teenagers face and showing how they might be able to deal with life’s challenges. In “The Ghost of Swiss Castle,” Paul and Mabel Honeysuckle are, like all of Marr’s protagonists, plucky, siblings who eventually, and at great risk, bring comfort to the ghost of mistreated little Malcolm, who couldn’t let go of his hatred. Murray Hawkins (“Haunted for a Time”) is his own worst enemy. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Murray is a Scrooge-in-training. This young lad will not freely lend his comic books but is happy to rent them out for a decent return on his investment. His salvation comes in the form of his doppelganger, an impish version of Murray, who gets him in trouble and thwarts his agenda whenever possible, but drives him to the realization that good deeds can feel as good as hard cash, winning him the same happy salvation that old Ebenezer won. “The Buyer of Hearts” is perhaps the most poetic of the stories, and it’s rife with wraiths. Danny Melton’s father has run out on him and his mother. He’s hurting badly but then discovers that practically all of his schoolmates also have their secret heartaches. Some force, some cabal, is going around buying up hearts, and soon, everyone in Bruce’s school is eager to cash in and in turn become empty, ghostly. Why would you sell your heart? Because then you would not feel, which means you would not ache so. But life demands more from us, and eventually, the scheme fails and people one by one get their hearts back. Marr delights in the heart as metaphor, e.g., “ ‘Besides...when you sold your heart,’ said Sylvie, ‘I don’t think your heart was really in it.’ ” Marr is not just a grown-up, but a monk, so it is not surprising that his kids’ speech is sometimes just a little off. But he does feel for kids who suffer the death of a sibling or the abandonment of divorce or just the general confusion of trying to grow up or of being afraid to grow up. There are morals to these stories, but they don’t hit the reader over the head.
Marr is that wise and often witty uncle that every young person needs.