This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Ghostgirl” series.
Charlotte Usher is hoping her senior year in high school will finally be her year. She’s spent the summer trying to give herself a complete makeover. She’s studied the popular girls, including Petula Kensington, and is prepared to follow in their footsteps. Most of all, she dreams of stealing Petula’s boyfriend, Damen Dylan, and having him ask her to the Fall Ball. All of Charlotte’s dreams are cut short on the first day of school when she chokes on a gummy bear and dies.
Earlier in the day, the science teacher had paired Charlotte and Damen as lab partners. Charlotte felt Fate was smiling on her. This makes her all the more confused when she finds herself in a dark basement filling out intake forms and identifying her own corpse. She gains a glimpse into the world of the living and sees that few people even notice she’s gone. Petula’s edgy, goth sister, Scarlet, dashes off a two-sentence obituary for the school paper.
Charlotte is admitted to Dead Ed, a special education class for newly dead teens who have unresolved issues they must confront before they can move on. Pam (nicknamed Piccolo Pam because she died choking on her band instrument) guides Charlotte to her new classroom. There, Charlotte learns about the ways many of the other kids died and what issues they’re trying to work through. Most issues involve overcoming selfishness in some form. Charlotte isn’t sure what she needs to resolve for herself.
Charlotte is pleased to discover she can be closer than ever to Damen, even though he can’t see her. She follows him around and rides in his car with him. She even follows him to Petula’s, where she witnesses a make-out session. As she sulks in Petula’s bathroom, she runs into Scarlet. Charlotte is shocked to discover that Scarlet can see and talk to her. The caustic, death-obsessed Scarlet warms up to Charlotte and even gives her a make-under to help her look deader.
Charlotte rushes off to a meeting at her new dorm, an ancient but cool gothic mansion. Prue, a girl who immediately demonstrates her dislike for Charlotte and seems determined to tear her down, runs the meeting. The subject of the meeting is the house itself. The house is about to be sold, and the Dead Ed kids have to save it somehow.
While Petula and her friends are joyriding in the driver’s ed car, Charlotte decides to take possession of Petula’s body. It’s the only way she knows to get as physically close to Damen as she wants. Petula, unaware of what’s happening, fights back, and the attempt is unsuccessful. Charlotte later learns that trying to possess another person without their permission is the ultimate act of selfishness and can’t be done. She has to find a willing participant. That’s when she pitches her idea to Scarlet.
Scarlet likes the idea of being invisible and able to see things a live person can’t. She agrees to let Charlotte borrow her body from time to time, and Charlotte casts the spell. Being outside of her body, Scarlet can float around and watch the world. Meanwhile, Charlotte in Scarlet’s body gets close to Damen by tutoring him. She attempts to further win his favor by trying out for cheerleading in front of him. Despite Petula’s fury at the whole thing, Scarlet (possessed by Charlotte) wins a spot on the cheerleading squad and gets invited to the cheerleaders-only sleepover.
Scarlet isn’t happy with the way Charlotte is using her body. Furthermore, as Scarlet spends more time with Damen, she begins to like him, too. The girls find themselves in a contest to determine which Scarlet Damen really likes better: the real one or the one possessed by Charlotte.
In the land of the living, Petula and her friends try to thwart Scarlet at every turn. Meanwhile, the dead Prue tries to derail Charlotte. Prue feels Charlotte is keeping their entire class from graduating and crossing over because of her selfishness.
Scarlet and Charlotte figure out a way to keep the Dead Ed house from being condemned. They arrange for the Fall Ball to be held there with a haunted house theme. Charlotte still demands that Scarlet let her dance with Damen so she can claim the fabled Midnight Kiss. As Charlotte-in-Scarlet prepares to kiss Damen, chaos ensues in the house. The dead kids begin to become visible to the live ones, causing terror and mayhem.
Charlotte realizes her efforts to stop what is happening are more important than getting to kiss Damen. She lets Scarlet back into her own body to receive the kiss while she, Charlotte, helps get things under control. Prue is impressed with Charlotte’s unselfish gesture, which ultimately allows the dead kids to graduate and move on from their purgatory.
Scarlet and Damen become a couple, and the old mansion where the dead kids lived becomes a chic hangout. Charlotte, finally deciding to be herself, enjoys death and even meets a cute dead boy.
When Charlotte discovers she has locker number seven, she says it’s both a lucky and biblical number. She believes Fate has paired her and Damen as lab partners. She talks a lot about Fate throughout the story and ponders whether she has more faith in herself or in Fate. After her death, she thinks God must have quite a sense of humor. She also realizes she has yet to see or hear from the Big Guy (or Big Gal, to be politically correct) since her death. She thinks about people who have had near-death experiences and rave about the afterlife. She feels angry with them and wonders why they don’t just kill themselves and go there if it’s so great.
Students in Dead Ed learn skills — levitation, telekinesis, phase shifting and teleportation. The dead teens coexist in the same space with living ones, but in different realities. The dead can see the living, but not the other way around. When Charlotte uses the Lord’s name in vain, Prue snaps that even God won’t help her if she screws things up.
The Dead Ed 12-step program includes the mention of believing in a power higher than oneself. The teacher says a student’s ability to acknowledge his shortcomings could earn him a one-way ticket to a Better Place. Charlotte reads an incantation to possess Scarlet’s body.
When Scarlet first sees Charlotte and is afraid, she holds out a crucifix. She tells Charlotte it’s real, and Charlotte laughingly replies that Jesus must have been very tiny. After the scene at the haunted house, one of Petula’s friends feels she’s witnessed a miracle. She crosses herself and cries out to Charlotte to pray for her.
There’s a brief reference to Charlotte spending most of her life raised by a court-appointed guardian. No other information about her parents or guardians is given. Brain, the Dead Ed teacher, repeatedly urges Charlotte and the other kids to learn to become unselfish so they can move on to the next phase of death.
The Lord’s name is used in vain a number of times, as are the f-word, s—, h—, butt, a–, p—, crap, sucks, whore, b–h, d–n, d–k, homo, slut, tits and blow me. Scarlet’s clock says the f-word along with “you” instead of “cuckoo.”
The narrator talks about Scarlet’s frequently used middle finger. After death, Charlotte’s fingers are chopped off by a whirling fan blade. Blood spurts and fingers fly, but she feels no pain. When she looks again, they are all intact.
The teens in Dead Ed have died in gruesome ways. A boy who died in a car accident has shards of metal in his head. Other students have skin or charred flesh flaking off of them. One dead girl is covered in scars. She had a habit of scraping herself just deeply enough to get attention, but it landed her in the hospital where she died of a staph infection. One boy died after being shot 10 times because, as a D.J. at a party, he wouldn’t play the songs requested. Another girl got drunk at a party and threw up in her gigantic handbag. She passed out with her head in the bag and drowned in her own vomit. One boy who died in a shop accident walks around with table saw wounds and a partially amputated arm.
The Dead Ed teacher’s brain frequently shows from under his toupee. The live kids do their best to create a bloody, gory setting for their party. At the party, the live kids are suddenly able to see the mangled, bruised, mutilated and decaying bodies of the dead kids.
Charlotte is obsessed with Damen and secretly took hundreds of pictures of him while she was alive. After her death, Charlotte realizes she can follow Damen around in his most intimate circumstances. She tails him to the locker room in hopes of seeing him naked or in the shower. She makes sexual jokes to herself about boob jobs, sleeping with him and copping a feel, though he has no idea she’s there.
Charlotte watches as Damen and Petula make out. Petula straddles him in a cheerleading split. Charlotte imagines feeling his touch and his tongue. She makes plans to inhabit Petula’s body so she can feel these things for herself.
Damen walks in on Scarlet coming out of the shower. She is naked, and he pretends not to notice. Two dead boys make crass sexual remarks about a female student. Petula purposely wears her cheerleading outfit to driver’s ed because she’s seen the teacher looking at her breasts. She plans to use his pedophilic tendencies to her advantage so she can be the first in class to get her license. One of Petula’s friends lifts her shirt to reveal scars from her breast implant surgery. As Charlotte is starting to enter Scarlet to possess her body, Charlotte quips that they can stop anytime and that she won’t do anything Scarlet doesn’t want to do.
During her time out-of-body, Scarlet embarrasses two jocks by allowing the teacher to find a sexual note they supposedly wrote to each other. She also sees two female teachers playing footsies under the table in the teacher’s lounge. Other jokes appear about some girls’ potential need for Planned Parenthood and fears of missing periods.
As the cheerleaders have their slumber party and run around in nighties, Damen and his friends watch from outside the window. One boy says to excuse his P.D.E., or public display of erection. Other erection jokes follow. The boys eventually go inside, and a game of spin-the-bottle ensues. Couples kiss and make out. Another time, as Damen prepares to take something out of his backpack, his comments make it sound like he is unzipping his fly and pulling out his genitals.
Scarlet and Damen disrobe to their underwear and swim and kiss in the school pool. At the Fall Ball, kids grope their dates.
Smoking: Potheads and cigarette smokers are found at Charlotte’s school while she’s among the living.
Bodily functions: Kids talk about passing gas. A teacher uses menses to explain how teens may be physically but not emotionally prepared for the afterlife. Petula and friends, leading cheerleading tryouts, slangly ask the girls if anyone is on her period.
Mean girls: Petula pulls out her shaving razor blade and rudely suggests Scarlet use it on herself. Another time, she asks why Scarlet isn’t off somewhere feeling ostracized. She mocks her sister in similar ways, with more discussion about wrist slashing, during cheerleading tryouts. Petula mocks a mentally challenged boy at school and even tells him he’s lucky to be retarded. She steals the driver’s ed car for a joyride and humiliates the teacher on the way out of the parking lot. She frequently manipulates teachers and her friends. Out-of-body Scarlet sees a girl she hates in the bathroom and puts a pubic hair in the girl’s coffee cup. Petula and her friends are horrified as they discuss a girl who became a model for a plus-sized women’s store.
Crime: Scarlet and Damen give each other bootleg copies of CDs. Scarlet sneaks into a teacher’s desk and steals his computer password.
Eating disorders: When Charlotte looks at all the high-calorie food in the dead school’s cafeteria, she wonders what her anorexic role models Petula and friends would think. Charlotte says Petula and friends obsess over their body mass indexes the way some obsess about SAT scores. When Petula’s friend throws up at the cheerleader party, Petula calls her a liar because the girl said she hadn’t eaten anything all day.
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