October 4, 2011

Ghost story not so scary

by Paul Yee (Tradewind Books)

Fifteen-year-old Jackson Leong has yin-yang eyes – he can see ghosts.  Seven months after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Jack is haunted by his brother's ghost and that of another spirit, a young woman. Jack is frightened though not as much as his superstitious family, especially Ma and her sister, Cat Aunty. They use charms to frighten the ghosts away, even though they can’t see them. Jack must get over his fear in order to help the ghosts find peace.

For a short novel (133 pages), the story seems very long. While trying to fend off the ghosts, Jack has to deal with bullies and prevent his family from being evicted. He also helps his cousin Kern, who is being sent back to China. To earn money, Jack even tries working in his uncle’s opium parlor, but nearly gets caught during a police raid. However, these events really aren't that interesting, the characters not terribly intriguing, nor the ghosts very frightening. They appear and disappear, sometimes gesturing, but never speaking. Readers must wait until the end of the book to find out why the ghosts are restless. That's when a long-hidden family secret is finally revealed. 

Author Paul Yee has written numerous stories about the Chinese in North America. Many of them, especially Ghost Train, are very haunting and emotional. But The Secret Keepers is not quite up to his usual standard. There's not much character development and the emotion is very muted. Of more interest is the ghost bride angle, which Yee doesn't fully explore. 

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