Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nothing but Ghosts - Beth Kephart

Yesterday - July 4, 2009 - I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's and an infection. I felt loss. When I returned to my mother's house I was drawn to Ms. Kephart's book. She is lyrical and insightful and healing. So, please forgive me if this review strays a little off the path, but I assure you that what I write is where the book led me. Thank you Beth Kephart.

This novel is depth and simplicity in one. It takes the tragic loss of losing a mother and walks us through the grieving of a husband and a daughter. It also takes us down a path of making the decision of what life you choose to live after loss.

Katie spends most of the novel searching for a mother who has "disappeared". She knows that she has lost her to cancer, but has yet to come to terms with losing a loving, full of life mother. There is no blame or anger just a sadness and loss that grips her heart and makes her almost afraid to live too fully anymore. She has closed off from friends and a "normal" teenage life. She decides to begin working in the garden of the town recluse and soon finds that this home also holds a mystery that she feels drawn to solve. While solving the mystery she becomes close with a teenage boy who also works in the garden and spends time in the library with Ms. McDermott. Her father also begins to solve a connected mystery when he is given a painting to restore and finds it was painted by the father of the recluse she is researching.

I can't give more details of the story without feeling like I tell too much, but I will tell you what I learned and what I think Ms. Kephart was trying to instill in each of us with this novel. Death is inevitable and many times unexpected...even if we know it is coming. It is how we live our lives after a loss that can bury us away from our own lives or let us live life fully.

There is more than one loss in this novel. In one loss, the loved ones left behind chose to close themselves off from the world and bury all that would remind them of the pain and suffering. With the loss of the one they loved they were breathing but dead as well. In the other story is Katie. She hasn't come to terms with her grief and is trying to decide which path she will follow. It is when she makes this promise "to live my life with my eyes wide open. To honor exuberance, and color." that she begins to live again. One choice presents a life of pain and regret the other presents a life of love and rememberance and healing.

This novel is full of symbolism and lyrical phrases that are beautiful. The poetry of her words are there, but not overwhelming to the reader. It is beauty and knowledge and love all together.

It is with this review that I say. Grandma I promise "to live with my eyes wide open. To honor exuberance, and color." I promise to keep you in my heart and never bury you in the past. You were truly a blessing from Above and will be missed. God has brought you home and you are now free of pain and suffering and where you belong. I choose life, I choose love. When something reminds me of you I promise to smile and say "Hi's good.".

Book Description from Amazon:

Ever since her mother passed away, Katie's been alone in her too-big house with her genius dad, who restores old paintings for a living. Katie takes a summer job at a garden estate, where, with the help of two brothers and a glamorous librarian, she soon becomes embroiled in decoding a mystery. There are secrets and shadows at the heart of Nothing but Ghosts: symbols hidden in a time-darkened painting, and surprises behind a locked bedroom door. But most of all, this is a love story—the story of a girl who learns about love while also learning to live with her own ghosts.
This is a heartfelt, lyrical tale from the National Book Award-nominated author of Undercover and House of Dance.


  1. Oh gosh, Alipet. So much just plain beautiful you here, so much that is honest. Thank you so much. May today release to you some sweet reassurance from your grandmother.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss.. What a wonderful tribute you've written to your Grandmother and for us... And what a wonderful review of Nothing but Ghosts.... You will be in my thoughts!


  3. Thanks for the kind words from each of you. This review was very healing for me.
    Thanks Beth for a wonderful novel, and for stopping by my blog.

  4. Alison, I read this before I went to church this morning and both wept and smiled. Amazing how just the right book falls into our lap at just the right time. It seems I have been reading books on death and dieing recently. I'm not especially drawn to the topic, but the books just seem to be there for a reason. The Last Lecture and I just finished "90 Minutes in Heaven". If you haven't read that, it would be a good one to read. Your review definitely aroused my interest in reading "Nothing But Ghosts." The way we look at death and accecpt or reject the feelings that come with it can definitely impact our lives. I will be interested to read this book, not just for the mystery element, but also for the deeper meaning of how we face our own ghosts. I love how you gain personally from each book that you share. We sometimes find peace in strange places. I'll put some thoughts about the book "90 Minutes in Heaven". I am sure your "Granny" is smiling down as she watches you take on life!

  5. Very nice review.... you put it very well. I am sorry for your loss.

  6. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. It's amazing that the right book came to you at the right time.

  7. What a gorgeous tribute to your granny. My grandma also has alzheimers and hasn't recognized me for several years now. The line you quoted was my favorite from this beautiful novel.

  8. I am so sorry for your loss! I lost my father two years ago, September, to Alzheimer's and a related disease. I also lost my grandmother (on my father's side) to the dreadful disease years ago.

    It seems I am meeting more and more people who have had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer's.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    I found your blog through the link you provided on Book Blogs.

  9. Oh, I'm so sorry about your grandmother. That's so sad. I'm glad that the book seemed to help some.

  10. Sorry you've lost your granny! This is a beautiful tribute to her!

  11. I 've just discovered your blog now through Book Blogs. I'm so sorry to learn about the loss of your grandmother. I'm glad you found a book that comforted and supported you during this difficult time and gave you a new path to follow. I love how Kephart describes the way to live: "to live my life with my eyes wide open. To honor exuberance, and color." These are wonderful words filled with so much meaning. Our lives are a tribute to our loved ones no longer with us. To strive to live a life full of joy, love, beauty, kindness - full of life - is the best way to honor them.

    Take care Alipet and thank you so much for this post. My grandmother is struggling with alzheimer's and has been for the past 5 years. She's a beautiful woman and your post reminds me to be strong for her.