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Marly's Ghost

Review

Marly's Ghost

As a fan of David Levithan's BOY MEETS BOY, I was anxiously awaiting the chance to read his latest, MARLY'S GHOST. Anyone familiar with Levithan's work knows what I'm talking about when I say that he wields words with the precision of a surgeon utilizing a scalpel. He can put you in someone else's head and make you feel like you've always been there. He can lift you up or shoot you down with a carefully crafted sentence. I'm happy to report that his most recent book does not disappoint.

As the title suggests, MARLY'S GHOST is a modern, teenage take on Charles Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The twist is that it's set around Valentine's Day, not Christmas. Ben and Marly are the perfect couple at their high school. When Marly gets ill and dies, Ben is convinced he'll never recover from the loss. Just as his counterpart, Ebenezer Scrooge, turns from Christmas, Ben turns from love. He spurns his best friend, Fred, refusing to join him for their annual anti-Valentine's Day party. He verbally abuses a gay couple (amusingly bearing the names Tiny and Tim) who attempt to get Ben to buy a Valentine's Day flower. And he falls deeper and deeper into a brooding depression that takes him farther and farther from the people who care most for him.

Even a passing familiarity with the Dickens story tells you what happens next. Marly's ghost visits Ben (her "chain" is a mammoth charm bracelet she wore in life, which Ben now unknowingly uses to tie her to this world) and announces that three spirits will visit him so that he might remember the meaning of love. Ben is then taken on a tour of love from the past, the present and the future, and (I don't think it's spoiling much to reveal) he returns to his life a changed man.

But don't dismiss this as a simple parody or pastiche of Dickens. Levithan very thoughtfully crafts his characters, granting them heart and heartache. You sympathize with Ben's loss from the very beginning in a way you never felt for Dickens's Scrooge. The sundering of Tiny Tim into two boys who are very much in love is a smart and fascinating move.

The only criticism I would raise is the anachronistic language that mimics Dickens's original dialogue but seems very out of place in this modern story. True, other classic works (such as Shakespeare) have been set in modern times while retaining the original language and still maintained their integrity. But Levithan jumps back and forth from the Dickensian discourse to contemporary teen speak, which is a bit distracting. However, this minor complaint should not deter anyone from this very earnest and touching story.

Reviewed by Brian Farrey on December 1, 2005

Marly's Ghost
by David Levithan

  • Publication Date: October 18, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Speak
  • ISBN-10: 014240912X
  • ISBN-13: 9780142409121