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BOOK REVIEW: Haunt Me by Liz Kessler

| 27 December 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Haunt Me by Liz Kessler

Orion Children’s Books
December 2016
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult/Supernatural



Joe wakes up from a deep sleep to see his family leave in a removals van. Where they’ve gone, he has no idea. Erin moves house and instantly feels at home in her new room. Even if it appears she isn’t the only one living in it. Bit by bit, Erin and Joe discover that they have somehow found a way across the ultimate divide – life and death. Bound by their backgrounds, a love of poetry and their growing feelings for each other, they are determined to find a way to be together.

Joe’s brother, Olly, never cared much for poetry. He was always too busy being king of the school – but that all changed when Joe died. And when an encounter in the school corridor brings him face to face with Erin, he realises how different things really are – including the kind of girl he falls for.

Two brothers. Two choices. Will Erin’s decision destroy her completely, or can she save herself before she is lost forever?


When I was in school, my friends and I would write these role-playing stories, each taking turns to write what was going on for our characters, progressing the story, and throwing curve-balls at the others that they could respond to when their turn came.

There seemed to be this unspoken battle in which each of us wanted to have the most damaged and special snowflake of all the characters, and of course we wanted all the boys to be madly in love with our own characters, to love them despite the damage… to want to save them and make everything better.

We would take turns writing the boy characters, too, and their every thought was always on the female characters who were our own embodiment of super special. 

That’s what this book felt like. Something my friends and I wrote as teenagers, which was total wish-fulfillment, but did not make any sense, and would have left readers undoubtedly frustrated at how “amazing” all of the characters were. The hopping of character points of view reinforced this feeling, with no chapter running for more than about five pages before it switched to the other, leaving nothing about their interactions unexplored from both points of view.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” became my mantra while reading this book, and was one of the main reasons I was able to push through. 

This is a story of instalove, and of so much assumption and stupidity. 

The dialogue was clunky, nothing felt natural, the writing was that of a middle grade novel (which isn’t unexpected, given that the author has spent so much of her time in that scene), and the whole thing was an exercise in the rolling of the eyes. 

It started out alright. Simplistic, middle-grade writing aside, it had some good, deep, well-described moments.

And when the methods you use to cope with their bullying ways are the very things they turn into weapons to use against you, you start to lose faith that anything that feels good can be real. The words, the laughter, the hatred – they get stuck fast somewhere deep inside you, and once that happens it’s not easy to know how to tear them off without ripping up your insides.

But when the two main characters met, it became some giant instalove fest.

Because it’s not that everything around me has changed; it’s that I’ve changed. He’s changed me. This – whatever it is – this thing going on between us, it turns everything else into a blurry backdrop that I barely notice.

Which only helps Erin stay away from the idea of real, living friendship. She seems to both understand why she’s so alone, and not understand it in the same breath.

But what do I expect when I hide away and look down and do everything I can to avoid human contact of any kind?
I might as well have been carrying around a billboard saying: ‘DO NOT COME NEAR OR TALK TO ME AT ALL!’
Sometimes it feels like I actually am carrying that sign around. The only problem is, it’s invisible to me and I don’t know how to get rid of it.

This is the next in a long line of human girl falls in love with supernatural being she can’t hope to have any future with, distances herself from those who care about her, drama ensues. And as such, it is highly predictable from the outset. Though there is, of course, room to move between start and finish and still turn this into something engaging and entertaining, it never moves behind this highly-predictable, eyeroll-worthy, instalove mess.

Besides the boring, nonsensical, silly plot, there were some specific instances that just didn’t make sense from a “normal, logical human being” standpoint.

  • Erin’s mother brings someone in to exorcise Erin’s bedroom. Supposedly Joe is the love of Erin’s life, and yet she doesn’t step up and say anything that could actually make a difference. This needed to happen to further the plot, but it was messy and silly and defied normal logic if he was as important to her as she said he was.
  • She missed out on making friends at her old school because of an accident that happened right before secondary school started so when she started school everyone had already made friends. This is one of the reasons she had such a hard time, one of the reasons she tried to kill herself, one of the reasons they moved to this new town. When she starts at her new school, she makes an effort to be ignored by everyone, thus restarting the cycle.
  • Erin almost falls from the cliff in daylight, courtesy of loose rocks, after stepping just a little off the path. She goes back the next morning at 5am and follows a “straggly path” down the cliff face to get to the rocks at the bottom, where the waves crash.
  • Erin is told by her ghost boyfriend, who has a very patchy memory and doesn’t remember the circumstances around it, that the living guy she is friends with was the one who killed him. She resolves to get to the bottom of what happened, and also resolves never to talk to, talk about, or even look at the guy who supposedly killed her ghost boyfriend, which is bound to make said investigation incredibly easy, right?
  • Guy that she is avoiding goes looking for her, finds her in the library. Doesn’t know what he did to upset her. Asks if they can catch up after school to discuss what he supposedly did. She rejects him.
    He “softly places his chair under the desk in a way that is more sinister than if he’d thrown it across the room”, which makes her “wonder what he’s capable of“. Murder, obviously.

And several editing issues.

  • The time when, in order to justify bursting into Erin’s room hence making the situation uncomfortable for the Erin and Joe, Erin’s mother says “Erin, I need to talk to you!” after calling out to her several times. When her mum enters the room and Erin asks her “What is it?” her mum says “I just wondered if you wanted to come with us. We’re going for a walk round the harbour.”
  • At a sleepover, one of the other characters snuck a “bottle” past the parents. On one page Erin has been drinking PINTS of cider from said bottle, and on another she’s drinking glasses of wine.
  • Nothing like having a tongue stuck to the side of your desert… What?
    He’s waiting for me to say something. Problem is, right now my mouth is as dry as the last undiscovered desert, with the added complication of having a tongue stuck to the inside of it.
  • These two quotes on the same page:
    ‘I had an accident when I was eleven, and missed the first half term of secondary school,’ she goes on. She’s looking away from me. Her voice has changed; it’s as f she’s describing a distant scene that is nothing to do with her. ‘I wasn’t there when everyone was forming their groups of friends. That all happened without me.’
    ‘I had a car accident, got knocked over and bust my leg pretty badly. It took weeks to heal. By the time I started secondary school, there were no openings for best friend still available.’

Overall, this is a mess of a story that does not feel like it belongs in young adult because of how young the voice is, but has themes that render it unsuitable for middle grade readers. 

Do not recommend, unless you’re a fan of paranormal instalove.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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