The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

The Ghost Collector is less about the collecting of ghosts and more about the grief process. It will make you cry in the best way.

The Ghost Collector is about a girl named Shelly who lives with her mother and her grandmother. Shelly’s family has the unique ability to catch ghosts in their hair. Shelly’s mother tries to protect her from that life while her grandmother nurtures Shelly’s fascination with ghosts. Shelly loves her family very much and they are very tight knit, ghost preferences aside, until one evening Shelly’s mom doesn’t make it home and they learn she has died in a car accident. Shelly has a hard time coping with the fact that her mother is gone and hasn’t reappeared as a ghost, so she takes to collecting ghosts in her room until it is full to the brim.

What I like about this book is that for the most part the ghosts aren’t frightening and Shelly’s grandma has a very humane way of viewing them. In this book they are treated like any other person or animal. It was a nice change of pace to the typical ghost story. You get to see mischievous ghost people and their bones to pick with death and a graveyards supply of mice that met their fate to some very productive cats. It is slightly comical while holding that melancholy tone.

Focusing on Shelly’s grief was such an unexpected aspect of this story. You can feel Shelly’s pain and frustration at losing and being unable to find her mother, it haunts her every step. She is so young and faced with a tremendous loss, the emotion is very genuine in The Ghost Collector. There is one point in the book where Shelly is confronting a ghost bird and says,

“Why?” Shelly demands, “Why you and not her? If a bird can be a ghost, why not her? Where did she go? Where does anyone go?”

That piece of dialogue hit me hard. She is still a grade schooler and she is faced with such intense life questions. Shelly is one of the only people in the world capable of speaking to and caring for the dead, yet, she can’t find her own dead mother anywhere. Why? Honestly the resolution of this story so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. I won’t spoil it for you.

The other theme that I really liked and found unexpected was the depth of exploration this small book went into about the affects of a loss on a parent. Shelly’s grandma lost her daughter and is now faced with raising her granddaughter alone. Shelly’s grandma, pre-car accident, hardly charged anything to clear ghosts from peoples’ homes but now she is forced to charge people and be more careless about the dead, and breaks her own set-in-stone rules. This has a major affect on Shelly, she thinks if grandma can break rules she can break rules. The cause and effect in this story is very clear and everything grandma does trickles down to Shelly. That’s how Shelly ends up collecting ghosts, she sees that grandma can break her own rules so why can’t Shelly hoard a few ghosts in her bedroom?

My only complaint about this book is that the perspective is difficult to read at first. it feels like the point of view should be different. It’s written in 3rd person but really feels like it should be written in 1st person. This story is all about Shelley and with the 3rd person perspective it feels like it is being narrated by an outsider. The words felt weird in my head when I began reading, and they threw me out of the story a few times. In comparison to the impact of this story this is a relatively small complaint but it something I had to get off of my chest.

The Ghost Collector has easily earned itself 4/5 stars in my book. This story is tragic yet beautiful, and it will make you shed some tears. Thank you to NetGalley and Annick Press Ltd. for giving me the opportunity to review The Ghost Collector.

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