REVIEW #87: Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

Title: Notes from Ghost Town
Author: Kate Ellison
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Pages: 336, Hardcover

They say first love never dies...

From critically acclaimed author Kate Ellison comes a heartbreaking mystery of mental illness, unspoken love, and murder. When sixteen-year-old artist Olivia Tithe is visited by the ghost of her first love, Lucas Stern, it’s only through scattered images and notes left behind that she can unravel the mystery of his death.

There’s a catch: Olivia has gone colorblind, and there’s a good chance she’s losing her mind completely—just like her mother did. How else to explain seeing (and falling in love all over again with) someone who isn’t really there?

With the murder trial looming just nine days away, Olivia must follow her heart to the truth, no matter how painful. It’s the only way she can save herself.


"But maybe the heart is an organ on constant-ready, always waiting to try again, always open to the next best thing."
Olivia realizes she's in love with her best friend and finally gets that wishful kiss. But when she opens her eyes again the world is gray and void of color. In a fit of panic and confusion, she pushes Stern away from her, to which he responds with a hasty apology and quick departure. Olivia never gets to tell Stern that she wanted that kiss because a week later he is dead. Worse yet, her mother is in jail for murdering him in an episode of schizophrenia. 

Then Stern's ghost appears to Olivia. She's convinced she must be going crazy, just like her mother. But he tells her things that she didn't know herself, convincing her that he must be real. He confesses that her mother didn't kill him but his memories before death are scattered and incomplete so he can't say who did. Together they uncover the events surrounding his murder but as Olivia gets closer to the truth, she gets farther from everyone else. Her friends and family pass off her suspicions as paranoia, convinced that it's just a matter of time before her mind breaks. 

I found the synopsis of this book to be a bit deceiving, specifically the “heartbreaking mystery of mental illness”. Mental Illness was present in the book and a real threat for the main character, but it felt distant rather than impending and her mind was sane and reasonable throughout the story. I did find this book to be a psychological thriller or a book where the main character struggles with insanity and readers need to distinguish reality from fiction. Mental illness is just a tool in the plot and doesn’t play a significant role, at least that’s how it felt to me.

The plot had two real goals. The first is for Olivia to solve the mystery of Stern’s murder, which she does so with help of his ghost. The murder mystery was pretty simple and cliché and I guessed the culprit before or around page 100 if I remember correctly (which never happens). I was still interested because I wasn’t sure of the motive but that became obvious before the big revealing as well. The overly perceptive will definitely pick up on it early and I expect the book to lose some of its appeal at that time.  

The second plot goal is for Olivia to find closure over her feelings for Stern. She never gets to tell him she loved him and can’t accept that he was taken from her so early and right as she realizes her true feelings. When Stern's ghost appears, she doesn’t want to tell him right away because she’s afraid that kiss won’t be among his fragmented memories and since he took it back right after it happened she questions if he feels the same. This unspoken love is what probably elicited the most emotion from me because I can’t imagine what it must feel like to lose someone you love before their time and right after your relationship takes that next step. And then to get them back but not really. Like a terrible reminder of what you can't have but a second chance nevertheless. It’s an unimaginable thought and I can totally understand the struggle Olivia went through. But I was also a little frustrated that she doubted his feelings and waited as long as she did to tell him after he reappeared. 

One thing I didn’t understand at all was the color blindness. I think it was intended to enhance the feeling of mental instability but I think the book could have done without it because it didn’t really work in that regard. There wasn’t a good explanation given as to the cause or resolution which made it feel like a lackluster element, especially since I never really questioned Olivia’s sanity. Again, maybe it was me. 

I did like Olivia and I think under different circumstances she could have better proven her strength, like a different book could have made her shine more than she did. She was very capable and aware of herself. It’s not like she did stupid things and didn’t realize it. She knew the attention she was getting and the consequences of her behavior. I really really appreciated this characteristic in her since so many YA leads seem oblivious.

Oo another frustrating point that I must mention (not with the book) was when her parents and friends just brushed aside her suspicions as crazy talk. I cannot imagine my mother ever not being on my side. Or my best friend for that matter. ESPECIALLY if they have no real cause not to be. It’s not like she cried wolf time and time again. Instead they chose not to trust her because her mother was sick and there was a “good chance” she would go crazy too. That doesn’t mean she is already crazy! She didn’t do anything to deserve that reaction from them and I wanted to scream at all of them for not hearing her out. 

Wrap Up
So in summary, I definitely felt some emotion but I never really got excited and couldn’t relate and wasn’t moved by some of the major trigger points. This is the real reason why this book ended up just being an average read for me. I think it has everything to do with what I was looking for in a book at the moment and Notes from Ghost Town didn't really have it.

"Order is what we make happen - an instinct hammered into our lizard brains to help us stay upright, even when everything around us is chaotic, tilting, trying to buck us off its back, back into bottomless Nowhere, back into the Gray Space."



  1. I've read Kate Ellison's previous book, and it was pretty good! I think it's always interesting when an author takes mental illness or something in that vein and tries to incorporate it into a story. I'm curious about this one, so hopefully, I end up reading it soon!

    1. I've read books that better addressed mental illness but this was still a good read! I hope you get to read it soon!

  2. This book is well worth the read. It's an emotional roller coaster in some places and brilliantly written. I learned one thing that is important, that you can't judge a book based in the first couple of chapters, because once I was through reading I wanted to know more about everything that had happened. I was completely drawn into the words that had been written on the pages.
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