Book Review: Absent by Katie Williams

Katie Williams
Chronicle Books, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-8118-7150-1

From the publisher—

When seventeen-year-old Paige dies in a freak fall from the roof during Physics class, her spirit is bound to the grounds of her high school. At least she has company: her fellow ghosts Evan and Brooke, who also died there. But when Paige hears the rumor that her death wasn’t an accident—that she supposedly jumped on purpose—she can’t bear it. Then Paige discovers something amazing. She can possess living people when they think of her, and she can make them do almost anything. Maybe, just maybe, she can get to the most popular girl in school and stop the rumors once and for all.

Oh, my. I think I love this book.

Teenage suicide or, really, the deaths of teenagers for any reason are very difficult to bear and creating a story around such a theme is probably as hard as it comes. Katie Williams has done it beautifully and with great compassion.

It’s not uncommon to find people who believe a soul is tethered to the last place he or she was alive until something happens to release the soul so, when  I read the description of this story, I wasn’t put off. I found myself intrigued at the idea of these “stuck” souls not only communicating with each other but also carrying on a life of sorts. I wanted to know why they hadn’t been able to move on and I wanted to know who they were.

The three teens seem to accept what has happened to them and find ways to entertain themselves and to observe how life goes on without them. Paige is fairly content until she finds out that one of the popular girls is spreading rumors about her and she just can’t sit back and take that. It’s handy that she discovers an ability to take possession of a body, in a way, and then the game is on.

Absent is a story full of heartaches, questions, and remorse and even though Paige, Brooke and Evan are dead, they didn’t hit a wall when they died. Instead, they continue to grow emotionally and we see the people they could have been in life, a great sadness in itself. Each has a personal story that’s so appealing and so sad and I came to like each of these kids a lot for very different reasons. Evan, in particular, tugged at the heartstrings with a vengeance, but some of the still-living characters also got my attention, especially Wes.

Along with the stories of these three ghosts and their living friends and family, there is also a lot of mystery here, making the tale even more attractive to this mystery fan. I wanted very much to follow Paige as she discovered the truth about her own end but, as it turns out, there was even more to learn.

Katie Williams is a writer I had not tried before and Absent was a wonderful introduction for me. I’ll be looking for her again and I suspect I’ll be re-reading this book, something I rarely do.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2013.