So, my dear Cassandra has been trying to get me to read A Certain Slant of Light, the first novel by Laura Whitcomb, for over three years. She even lent me the book a year and a half ago, I suppose in the hope that proximity would move me to do what the passage of time had not. And it finally worked! I am very glad that I got around to reading it, as well, although it was much more dark and serious than I had expected. At first, the story seems to be about a ghost (Helen) and the high school boy (Billy) who is the first person to see and interact with her for over 100 years. However, she soon finds out that he can see her only because Billy's body is being occupied by another spirit, James, who exerts a magnetic pull on Helen as she begins to discover that her (after)life might not be as unchanging and eternal as she believed. Although the story is set in the modern era, the atmosphere is distinctly gothic, as Helen struggles with questions of faith (why does God deny her entry into heaven?), love, and obedience. The book is also concerned with perception; Helen's purgatory is in no small part created by her own belief in the "rules" of life as a ghost, which she has never questioned until James arrives on the scene. It is difficult to say more without giving away key parts of the story, but suffice to say that Whitcomb does an excellent job of gradually building tension, delicately outlining the difficulties experienced by teenagers and their families, and exploring the concept of free will, all within the framework of an engrossing love story.
I was really, really worried about the main characters for most of this book. It made it very difficult to stop reading.
Although I imagine this is categorized as a Young Adult book, the main character has "lived" for at least 150 years, and James is equally adult. The juxtaposition between the ghostly lovers and their human counterparts is intriguing, because they have been distanced from the world of the living for so long that everything is new and exciting for them (a kind of delirious freedom), whereas the teenagers find life increasingly restrictive.