Book Review: Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan

Marly's GhostIf you ask me, David Levithan can pretty much do no wrong. I’ve now read at least a handful of books either written or co-written by this author, and I’ve love just about all of them.

I recently came across a review of Marly’s Ghost over at Chrissi Reads, and my curiosity was immediately piqued.

Marly’s Ghost was originally published in 2005, but it looks like a new edition is being published in the UK by Egmont Publishing.

This slim novel is a retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and it’s a retelling in the truest sense of the word. The original story doesn’t just provide a launching pad for a new idea; instead, Marly’s Ghost faithfully follows the original, practically scene by scene, but transposes it into a modern love story that’s both incredibly sad and unexpectedly uplifting.

In Marly’s Ghost, Ben is bitterly mourning the death of his beloved girlfriend Marly, who died four months earlier after a long and painful battle with cancer. Marly was the center of Ben’s world, and without her, he sees no point in anything. He pushes away his friends, sees only bleakness in everything around him, and has a special sort of derision for Valentine’s Day. Marly’s death, to Ben, is proof that love is a crock. It can’t last, it only breaks you when it’s gone, and it can’t be worth pursuing if it only leads to pain.

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, when Ben has once again cruelly rebuffed his best friend’s attempts to connect and has needlessly lashed out at a couple in the early stages of love, he retreats to his room to surround himself with his loss and seek isolation. But his isolation is shattered when Marly’s ghost appears, weighed down by chains forged from a charm bracelet containing every memento of their time together. Ben’s grief is holding her and not letting her find peace. Marly warns Ben that he will be visited by three spirits… and, well, if you’ve ever read or seen a production of A Christmas Carol, you have a pretty good idea of what’s to come.

Ben is visited by the spirits of Valentine’s Day past, present, and future, and each shows Ben a piece of himself and illuminates his effect on those around him. Above all else, Marly wanted Ben to promise not to give up, and the spirits have come to hold him to his promise.

This slim novel brought me to tears at various points. It’s a terribly sad story of loss and suffering, made worse by the characters’ young ages, and yet it’s a pleasure to read as well. David Levithan refers to this book as a “remix” of A Christmas Carol, and that’s an apt description. He sticks to the basics of the original story, but turns it into something new and emotionally rich. The modern-day characters fit easily into the framework of the classic story, and Ben’s transformation from bitterness to hope is believable and lovely.

The book is further enhanced by black and white illustrations by the masterful Brian Selznick, who models his drawings on the illustrations found in the original edition of A Christmas Carol.

I recommend this book highly, for fans of the author and illustrator, for those who love A Christmas Carol, or for anyone who enjoys a well-written, honest look at love and loss. I borrowed this book from the library, but I think I need to own a copy for myself! Marly’s Ghost, along with David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary, proves that in the hands of a gifted author, good things really do come in small packages.

With thanks to Chrissi for inspiring me to track down a copy of this book!


The details:

Title: Marly’s Ghost
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: Originally published 2005
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

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