YA Weekend: This Is Not A Ghost Story by Andrea Portes
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: HarperTeen | HarperAudio (November 17, 2020)
Length: 288 pages | 6 hours
Despite what the title may tell you, this one was a ghost story. Just…maybe not your typical one.
This spooky young adult tale by Andrea Portes follows Daffodil Franklin, who recently graduated from high school with big plans to escape her stifling small-town life in Nebraska for college on the east coast. Problem is though, tuition can be expensive, and money is something our protagonist doesn’t have.
Fortunately, she finds a job housesitting for a wealthy couple who will be away from their mansion for the summer. It’s the ideal position for a student preparing for their freshmen year—quiet, with minimal duties, and well-paying. Daffodil would be at the house alone, though a construction crew would also be on the premises during the weekdays, working on a renovation project.
At first, everything goes as expected. The workers out back can be noisy, but for the most part things are peaceful. However, as the summer progresses, strange things begin to happen at the house. When night falls, and Daffodil is all by herself, she isn’t sure if the eerie sights and sounds are really there or just in her imagination.
Before I start in with the meat of my review, I just want to be clear that I enjoyed This is Not a Ghost Story, even though a lot of what I’m about to say is probably going to sound pretty harsh. While the novel certainly had plenty of strengths in its favor, it had more than a few hiccups as well—it’s just that none of its weaknesses were enough to stop me from devouring it in record time, for at no point did I not feel completely enthralled.
For one thing, the story definitely had a moody atmosphere and creepy vibes going for it. A lot of downright bizarre and frightening things happen to Daffodil, even if many of these incidents are less about the in-your-face elements of traditional horror. Rather, it’s more about the paranoia-inducing dread and the terrifying uncertainty of the possibility of losing one’s mind.
But here’s also where the cracks in the plot will start to show. That’s because threaded through the narrative are flashbacks to Daffodil’s time in high school, where we get to learn more about her and an old boyfriend named Zander. Not only did these sections distract from the present storyline, but they also introduced a host of new issues, including a few annoying YA tropes. Daffodil describes herself as plain, distant, and completely forgettable, yet of course she manages to catch the eye of an Adonis like Zander, who holds the distinction of being lusted after by the entirety of Nebraska’s teen girl population, apparently.
Which brings me, next, to the character of Daffodil herself. The whole story is narrated from her point of view, and I hate to say it, but there’s something about the writing style that makes it extremely off-putting. Not only is Daffodil’s voice immature and fickle to the extreme, she also strikes me as someone who thinks she’s the smartest person in the room when in fact she is the dumbest. There’s not a semblance of self-awareness in this girl, who looks down her passive aggressive nose on those she thinks less of, but then has the audacity to get bent out of shape when she perceives judgement from others.
The ending was also very predictable. If you’ve had any kind of experience with stories like this, there’s no chance in hell you won’t see the “twist” at the end coming a mile away. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
And yet, for all its flaws, I still had a good time with the story. Like I said, they weren’t enough to affect my overall enjoyment greatly, and I think part of the reason for that is the novel’s relatively short length, which also moved along at a pretty fast clip. There’s really not much time to stop and mull over any shortcomings before you’re being swept along by the plot’s sheer insistence on pushing forward, which also made it much easier to tolerate Daffodil. Overall, this was not the best read, but also far from bad, and it kept me entertained.
I was also fortunate to have been given a chance to try the audiobook edition of This is Not a Ghost Story, narrated by Lauren Ezzo. Her performance was enthusiastic, perhaps too much so, especially in sections where Daffodil would descend into hysterics so that listening to the audio was almost unbearable. I probably would prefer the print edition when it comes to this one.