________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006


Ghost Boy.

Iain Lawrence.
New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2000.
326 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.99 (pbk.), $23.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-440-41668-X (pbk.), ISBN 0-385-32739-0 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Albinos and albinism-Fiction.

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Karen Rankin.

***½ /4



Harold felt a tingle through his back and down his arms. Walter Beesley had made him scared of Gypsies; he saw them as thieves that came crawling in packs.

Above the prairie noises, he heard the growl of the engine and looked up, to the east. A prick of light floated there, between the land and sky. It split in two, a pair of yellow eyes. They glared down the road and shone in leaping flashes on the trailer. And Samuel ran to meet them. He sprinted through the grass, hunched and gangly, like something prehistoric. The eyes caught him and pinned him on the road, and his shadow stretched for a quarter mile, rippled on the river.

The truck slowed, grinding through its gears. It shimmied sideways, straightened again, then stopped beside the other one. It was shorter and fatter than the Ford that Samuel drove, clotted with mud around its fenders. The lights went out and the engine stopped. A door creaked open.

“That boy, is he here?” said the Gypsy Magda. “That boy on his journey, that traveling boy. Is he here?”

“Yes,” said Samuel. He stood below the door, reaching up into a void of shadows. “We were worried about you,” he said.

“Has he seen the Cannibal King?”


“Much I have to tell him.”

Samuel stretched his arms toward the cab. A hand floated out of the darkness, a face above it, but nothing to join them. The hand fluttered down like a moth and landed on Samuel’s shoulder. He took the woman in his arms and set her down on the grass.

She came into the light from the trailer windows, a woman dressed all in black, in layers of scarves that flowed around her. She was thin and shriveled and gray; her arms were nothing but bones. But on her wrists and her ankles she wore silver bracelets, and bells below the scarves, and she walked with a jingling and a tingling of metal. Tina ran to greet her, and the Gypsy Magda dropped to her knees to hug the little princess.


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.

Highly Recommended.

Karen Rankin, a writer and editor of children’s stories, lives in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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