There’s nothing I like better than a good ghost story. And New Orleans is a great city to set one in. In fact, Ruined‘s greatest strength is its setting.
Because I’ve been doing research on NO for a project of my own, some of what the book offers is stuff I already know. Even so, all of it is fascinating, especially for people only just being exposed to it. Paula Morris paints the city into the perfect backdrop for her ghost story, setting it right down between history and modern day in such a way that you could easily believe that the story has its roots outside of the author’s imagination.
Ruined isn’t afraid to question racism and bigotry. Nor does it shy away from tackling the matter of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the city — and what people may or may not be doing to help. But it doesn’t exploit the topic either. Morris could have chosen the easy way out, centering the ghost story on Katrina, but she chooses not to, for which I have a lot of respect. Instead she sets its beginning in the middle of the 1800s.
If you’re familiar with this sort of book the plot is likely to be a little predictable, and I found one of the major plot twists towards the end to be a bit implausible and hard to swallow. But it’s otherwise smartly wrought, so readers unfamiliar with the nature of this sort of ghost story will be in for some startling surprises. And the writing is perfectly competent, solid enough, with the exception of extreme colon abuse.
The main thing that kept Ruined from being a great book was its main character, Rebecca. I didn’t find her very interesting or sympathetic. Yes, she’s being uprooted for a few months and having to live in another city, and that’s hard. But she’s so negative and judgmental about everything that I find it hard to empathize. Whether her judgments proved to be right or wrong, she immediately categorizes the majority of her schoolmates as utter snobs and their followers, without ever getting to know anyone. Rebecca reads as believing she’s better than her classmates because she’s not concerned with boys and parties and celebrities, and any number of things teenage girls might be interested in, which I don’t care for. Worse, this begs the question, just what are Rebecca’s interests? Who is she? Why should I care about her? I didn’t feel these questions were sufficiently answered. Moreover, Rebecca’s dull “voice” can make the book drag at times. And despite her constant insistence that the other girls’ concerns were immature, Rebecca is the one who feels immature. She’s supposed to be 15 but feels more like she’s 12 or 13.
The other thing keeping Ruined from being really great is its ending. A lot of big, strange things happen to Rebecca and her friends. How does it affect them? What are the consequences? How does Rebecca feel afterward? What will change in her life now, if anything? Not a single one of these questions was answered. The book comes to a sort of wheezy, jerking halt without any real feeling of resolution.
Ruined has its strengths, certainly. But reader mileage will vary as to how much its weaknesses take away from enjoyment. For me the book wasn’t bad, but it definitely could have been stronger.
Ghost Stories for Teens — (2009-2013) Young adult. Publisher: Rebecca couldn’t feel more out of place in New Orleans, where she comes to spend the year while her dad is traveling. She’s staying in a creepy old house with her aunt. And at the snooty prep school, the filthy-rich girls treat Rebecca like she’s invisible. Only gorgeous, unavailable Anton Grey seems to give Rebecca the time of day, but she wonders if he’s got a hidden agenda. Then one night, in Lafayette Cemetery, Rebecca makes a friend. Sweet, mysterious Lisette is eager to talk to Rebecca, and to show her the nooks and crannies of the city. There’s just one catch: Lisette is a ghost. A ghost with a deep, dark secret, and a serious score to settle. As Rebecca learns morefrom her ghost friend — and as she slowly learns to trust Anton Grey — she also uncovers startling truths about her own history. Will Rebecca be able to right the wrongs of the past, or has everything been ruined beyond repair?