Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts

Victoria Schwab
For ages 9 to 12
Scholastic Press, 2018   ISBN: 978-1338111002

Cass was born in March which, her mother thinks, accounts for Cass’ inability to sit still. Like March, the month that has “one foot in winter and the other in spring,” Cass does not seem to “belong in one place.” This duality in her nature becomes all the more pronounced when she has an accident.

On her eleventh birthday Cass is given a camera, and she is so eager to use it that she sets out on her bike to take some pictures of a place that is near her home. She is forced off a bridge by a truck and ends up in the freezing water below the bridge. Cass starts to sink, light fades, she runs out of air, and then there is a “stutter” in time. The next thing Cass is sure of it is that she is on the riverbank and there is a boy next to her. He explains that he pulled her out of the river and he tells her that his name is Jacob. Soon after, help arrives and Cass passes out.

She wakes up in hospital and she sees that both her parents, and Jacob, are there. Cass quickly figures out that she is the only person there who can see Jacob because he is a ghost. Apparently, for a while, Cass was dead in that river, but Jacob brought her back. Now she can see the dead. She has one foot in the living world, and one foot in the world of the deceased.

When a ghost is near Cass feels as if someone is tapping nearby and she is drawn to the sensation, pulled by it until she comes to the Veil, the barrier that stands between her two worlds. It hangs like a curtain of gray cloth that she can draw back. Beyond is the ghost whose presence pulled her there.

Try as she might, Cass cannot ignore the “tap-tap-tap” of the summons, and through the Veil she must go, no matter what, to find out who is there, with Jacob by her side. He is always there, watching over her, making sure that she is able to get back to the living world. Cass does not understand this compulsion and Jacob wishes she could ignore it, but she can’t.

It turns out that there are quite a lot of ghosts in upstate New York where Cass lives, so every year she really looks forward to the family vacation. Every summer Cass’s parents rent a place by the ocean so that they can work on their next book in peace and quiet. Cass loves the shore because there are fewer ghosts there and she too can have some peace and quiet for a change.

Unfortunately, it looks like this summer is going to be different. Cass’s parents, who write books about the paranormal (how ironic is that), are going to host a show about The Most Haunted Cities in the World. It will be a documentary, and the first place they will be visiting is the city of Edinburgh, in Scotland. Cass is not thrilled by this news, but her parents have no idea about her ghost seeing ability and she doesn’t want to ruin this exciting opportunity for them. She has no choice but to go along with things and hope for the best.

It turns out that Edinburgh is truly the city of ghosts. Several areas in the center of the city are thick with the things, and being there is very hard for Cass. She does her best to avoid the worst spots, but she still sees things on the other side of the Veil that she wishes she could unsee; and she feels things that are really quite terrifying. In fact, in some places even the atmosphere on the right side of the Veil is quite dreadful.

Cass hears lots of stories about Edinburgh’s ghosts, and one in particular, a tale about a woman ghost called Raven, is really unsettling. It does not help matters at all when Cass sees Raven beyond the Veil; and when Raven clearly sees her.

Matters get even more complicated when Cass meets a girl around her age who also sees the dead. This girl, Lara, is the one who finally explains why Cass is drawn to seek out the ghosts.

Readers who like stories about ghosts are going to thoroughly enjoy this unique and spine tingling book. We cannot help but feel sorry for Cass, who really has no idea what she is doing. She has to learn, the hard way, that her ability to go beyond the Veil should not be taken lightly. It is, in fact, something that needs to be treated with a great deal of caution and respect, because you never quite know what you are dealing with when you encounter the dead.