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“This time, his finger makes contact with my skin. Makes my face buzz and burn. Makes my body heat up. A second later the moment has passed, and I can’t feel him at all. Did I imagine it? I ask myself that question about fifty times a day. Am I making up the whole thing?” Erin —Haunt Me
by Liz Kessler
After years of struggling with her mental health and social life, Erin and her family have moved away to start over. She tries to put on a smile for her parents, reminding herself, “this is all because of me. The least I can do is act grateful.” Life in the beachside town isn’t all that exciting until she discovers a ghost haunting her bedroom.
Joe was the same age as Erin when he died months ago. He struggles to recall details of his life and how it ended. The bond between Erin and Joe grows and quickly turns into love. Still, she can’t avoid the painful reality that “this isn’t a relationship. It isn’t real. It isn’t life.” Erin soon discovers that though Joe’s family has moved from the house she now calls home, they haven’t gone far. And it isn’t long before she meets his older brother.
Once an athletic playboy, Olly has been left gutted by his brother’s death. Though he and Erin could not be more different, he is drawn to her and Erin can’t deny that she is drawn to him as well. As her life begins to spiral downward due to a betrayal from one of her new school friends, Erin realizes that there is only one way she could ever be with Joe. She must not only choose between two brothers but life and death.
The first part of Haunt Me alternates between the perspectives of Erin and Joe, and the setting is mostly confined to her room. This is the part of the book that flows the best, as it’s easy to be charmed by their budding romance. Olly’s perspective is eventually introduced, which muddles the pacing. As Erin and Olly spend more time together, Joe’s perspective becomes less frequent as he spends most of his time alone. This change makes the book feel as if it has become another story entirely, which might disappoint readers who were drawn in by Erin and Joe’s relationship.
As the protagonist, Erin is easy to sympathize with, but she doesn’t stand out. She is shy, troubled, and likes to write, but it’s difficult to gauge more about her. Readers are told about her struggles, but will rarely experience them with her, and it’s difficult to understand why she falls for Joe, and later Olly, so quickly. Meanwhile, Joe is witty and engaging. His narration easily draws in the reader. On the other hand, Olly is the weakest character; he is sympathetic but isn’t fleshed out. In addition, Erin’s family isn’t notable, and there’s a cliché cast of mean girls that does nothing but cause drama with unrealistic acts of spite. Unfortunately, most of the characters end up being forgettable.
Besides the clunky pacing and the underwhelming cast, Haunt Me has another major issue: the rushed conclusion. A lot happens over a short period of time, and there is little room to process the events. Joe’s spirit fades and the story would have greatly benefited from a longer goodbye between him and Erin, but it happens so fast that it doesn’t elicit much emotion from the reader. Furthermore, Erin lacks the romantic chemistry with Olly that she had with Joe, and it isn’t satisfying to see them end up together.
Readers who have struggled with depression themselves will connect with Erin’s struggles. She recounts her experiences with bullying and suicidal thoughts which is heartbreaking, but the book fails to show much of how her issues are being treated. Ultimately, it’s hard not to be let down by the poor execution of the story. While unique in concept, Haunt Me’s flaws ultimately cause it to fall flat. As an alternative to Haunt Me, grab a copy of Nina Moreno’s Don’t Date Rosa Santos which is about a girl who feels cursed and must deal with grief.
- Joe puts a hand on Erin’s head, and because she cannot yet see him she mistakes this for a large spider. She gets up in a panic and hastily removes her shirt while batting at her head. Joe says, “I can’t help myself. I glance at her as she rips her shirt off. Come on. I might be dead, but I’m still a sixteen-year-old boy.”
- Erin muses, “I have been kissed. But I don’t know if two snogs behind the gym and one in the back row of a cinema” counts. Snog is British slang for kissing.
- Erin describes kissing Joe as feeling like “nothing even exists except his lips on mine, his arms tightening around my waist . . . [pulling me] so close I am starting to wonder where I end and he begins.”
- Olly describes “snogging girls whose names I could barely remember.”
- Erin listens to Olly recall a party he went to with his former girlfriend. He says they went upstairs and came down after a bit, and Erin notes, “I don’t ask him what the ‘bit’ entailed. I don’t want to know.”
- Erin describes kissing Olly, “his hands in my hair, his lips pressed against mine.”
- A popular girl named Zoe confesses that she got to know the substitute gym teacher in eleventh grade and that he “had me working out a lot more than I’m used to.” She later admits this was a lie.
- A stanza in one of Erin’s poems describes “opening a can of chopped tomatoes and slicing my finger and not knowing which red is mine.”
- On her first day of secondary school, Erin describes being hit by a car, saying it “broke my leg in three places and shattered my kneecap.”
- Erin finds a silver pendant in the closet. When she reaches for it, she describes, “a bolt of electricity runs through my arm . . . it throws me backward against the wall.” She hits her head and is knocked out. When she wakes, she can see Joe’s ghost.
- Erin was bullied at her old school. Her bullies once waved a plastic bag in front of her and “suggested that I put it on my head and tie it tight . . . they were practically begging me to off myself.” Erin says this torment continued for a considerable period, but she didn’t tell anyone.
- While a psychic medium is attempting to expel Joe from Erin’s room, Joe feels as if he is being attacked. He describes feeling as though “needles [are piercing] my arms . . . knives [are slashing] at my legs.” The struggle lasts about six pages before he is successfully expelled.
- Erin attempts to kill herself by jumping off a beach cliff. Unable to get to her, Joe protests from below. He describes, “she’s letting go, leaning backwards.” Olly arrives just in time and grabs her arm, pulling her back up.
Drugs and Alcohol
- A stanza in one of Erin’s poems describes “staring at the gray carpet until it blurs . . . a bottle of pills in my hand.”
- Erin admits to Joe that she once tried to commit suicide via painkillers she had been prescribed. She says, “I emptied the contents of the bottle in my hand and took them in one go.” Her parents found her and took her to get her stomach pumped.
- Olly says his past few years have been filled with “parties, girls . . . and drugs.”
- Olly says that he began taking Joe to parties. At his first party, Joe took ecstasy. Olly reasons that half the people at these parties were “popping pills or sharing spliffs” and that he often smoked weed himself.
- While at a party, Joe would take whatever drug he could get his hands on, but usually ecstasy.
- At her first sleepover, Erin says she learned, “I quite like hard cider . . . after two pints of it, I think I’m rather good at singing, dancing, and air guitar.”
- While at a sleepover, Erin and her friends drink from a bottle of alcohol that one of the girls snuck past the host’s parents.
- Joe’s death was caused by a brain aneurysm. He thought he just had a headache. Joe took ecstasy that his brother was in possession of to “get completely wasted and not care about anything.” This caused the aneurysm to be fatal.
- Joe is a ghost, confined to Erin’s room. He states. “No one can hear me or see me. Because I’m dead.” Erin can see Joe after touching a silver pendant found inside the closet that gives her a sort-of electric shock.
- Joe is unable to touch at first, stating that his hand “goes right through [things].” He begins to realize he can interact with things if his emotions are strong, and he begins making physical contact with Erin more frequently throughout their relationship.
- While Erin’s mother is in her room trying to get her to come downstairs, Joe becomes so flustered that his energy causes her mother to be pushed back onto the bed, “the curtains [start] flapping . . . the window starts to rattle. . . [the bed] starts to shake as well.”
- After the above occurrence, Erin’s mother becomes convinced the room is haunted, saying that “the room is about ten degrees colder than the rest of the house . . . I’ve been hearing [bumps] for weeks.”
- Erin’s mother hires a psychic to expel the spirit. The act is described in detail, and the psychic instructs Erin’s mother to take some “of the sage, light the top of it and repeat after [her].” Joe is successfully expelled from the room, but his spirit is transferred to a cave by the beach.
- Joe realizes that his spirit is lingering because he needs to help his brother let go of the guilt he feels regarding his death. He also needs to help Erin find her will to live again. Once this is accomplished, “he melts, as he becomes the sea and the sky and air.”