CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006
Harold ‘the ghost’ is an albino living in small-town, southern USA a couple of years after the conclusion of World War II. His father has been killed in the war, and his beloved brother – and only sibling – is labeled “missing in action.” Furthermore, his mother has remarried, fattened to the size of a “4-H pig,” and gone “crazy.” Taunted by his peers and looked upon with derision by just about everyone else in town, Harold is a lonely and dejected young teen whose only true friend is his dog. When Hunter and Green’s Circus comes to town, Harold is drawn by the music of the calliope. Tina and Samuel, two of the circus freaks, befriend Harold and suggest that he join them. Harold is intrigued to learn that another of the circus members, the Cannibal King, is also an albino. Harold decides to run away from home and, with the help of Thunder Wakes Him, an ancient Indian, he catches up with Hunter and Green’s Circus. Although he believes that they are ‘freakier’ than himself – with his typically white hair, white skin, and poor vision, Harold becomes good friends with Princess Minikin (Tina), the midget, Samuel, the ape-man, and Gypsy Magda, the fortune teller. He also falls in love with Flip, the circus’s beautiful, trick-pony rider. Harold is given the job of helping to care for the animals and eventually impresses everyone working for Hunter and Green’s when he trains the elephants to play baseball. During his time with the circus, Harold learns that everything is not necessarily as it first appears. Amongst other things, he discovers that the Cannibal King is a mild-mannered person with vision even worse than his own, that the wise, old Indian is a white-man, that Princess Minikin is no princess, that Mr. Green (as in ‘Hunter and Green’) is not a real person but a pseudonym for money, and that Flip has ulterior motives for flirting with him. Most importantly, Harold comes to understand that he is no worse – and no better – than anyone else. By the time he decides to go back to his mother and his dog, Harold is a far wiser, emotionally stronger, and more self-reliant young man than when he ran away.
In Ghost Boy, Iain Lawrence has created a slew of vibrant and well-rounded characters, from Harold to everyone he comes across in the circus and on his travels – including the people who work in a diner and a desperate man with his dying daughter on the highway. By the time that Harold is ready to return home, he sees his old tormentors, his mother and his stepfather, from a new, more informed and mature perspective that rounds-out these characters as well.
There is something ominous in the tone and style of Ghost Boy that reminds one of Ray Bradbury’s excellent Something Wicked This Way Comes. Like Bradbury’s carnival story, Ghost Boy is chock-full of wonderful, descriptive passages, such as in the above excerpt. For strong readers, these descriptions paint colourful and engrossing scenes, in addition to enhancing character development. However, weaker readers, who would have enjoyed other Lawrence novels, such as his “High Seas Trilogy,” may find that this style slows the plot and demands too much of their attention. For the good reader, Ghost Boy is a captivating and thought-provoking coming-of-age tale. It reminds readers that one should not be quick to judge, and it will appeal especially to those who feel alienated from their peers.
Karen Rankin, a writer and editor of children’s stories, lives in Toronto, ON.
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