After a fight with her boyfriend before school one morning, high school senior Ellie Frame cuts class and heads to the lighthouse on the edge of her small town of Newfoundland, Ohio—a place where she and Noah spent so much of their time together but now where she needs to be alone to rethink where they could possibly have gone wrong. Eventually she dozes off while leaning against the lantern base but awakes to see catastrophic tornadoes heading directly her way. As she watches the tornadoes devastate her small town, the lighthouse remains standing, but half of her high school building is demolished and some ninety of her classmates are killed. Eventually she makes her way home through the chaos and destruction to find her parents safe, as well as her neighbor Timothy, two years her junior and a fellow student at the high school, who is on his back deck bouncing his basketball.
In succeeding days, Ellie grieves the loss of her best friends, Becca, Adrienne, Rose and (especially) Noah, and, of course, feels survivor’s guilt as she tries to keep tight rein on her emotions, always answering, “I’m fine, really,” when queried by her parents and others. In fact, she is, of course, not fine at all. “I kept my mouth set firm, though, so that the howl from that hollow place inside me—that gone away place—couldn’t escape. . . . Nothing. There’s nothing inside me. It’s all been taken from me now. It’s all gone away.”
The days pass. Ellie quickly realizes that Timothy is dead and puzzles over the fact he is tangible and can speak with her. In an effort to document his presence, she films him with her phone camera as he plays his saxophone, and, by doing so, she inadvertently discovers that she has a way to help the ghosts transition to the next level of existence. For the rest of the book she seeks out those who will accept her help, and in the process discovers some valuable truths about herself and her friends.
This book has such an elegant style about it, with lyrical writing and thoughtful commentary on peer and family relationships, the nature of being a “ghost” even before death (when people who should love you most fail to see and accept you as you truly are), the need for understanding and forgiveness, and the power of storytelling to enable people to move past the “gone away place” and carry old experiences along into a new future.
In the book are maybe five offensive words as well as supernatural possession of animals and people by spirits—all of which are vastly outweighed by a positive, affirming view of life before and after death.
Be sure to read the acknowledgments at the end of the book.