This is the story of Amelia and Riley, bad kids from bad Brookfield High who have transferred to Ashbury High for their final year. They’ve been in love since they were fourteen, they go out dancing every night, and sleep through school all day. And Ashbury can’t get enough of them.
Everyone’s trying to get their attention; even teachers are dressing differently, trying to make their classes more interesting. Everyone wants to be cooler, tougher, funnier, hoping to be invited into their cool, self-contained world.
But they don’t know that all Amelia can think about is her past — an idyllic time before she ran away from home. Riley thinks he’s losing her to the past, maybe even to a place further back in time. He turns to the students of Ashbury for help, and things get much, much worse.
In the tradition of the gothic novel, this is a story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femmes fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future’s come to get you.
Before you begin reading The Ghosts of Ashbury High, put all those expectations you may have about how a book is written on a shelf somewhere. You can pick them up later when you’re back to reading regular books.
Good. Now that that’s done, I can tell you about Jaclyn Moriarty and the Ashbury High books (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie). These four books aren’t sequels, but they do revolve around the same high school and involve characters who tend to appear in most or all of the other titles. Moriarty’s narrative is often told through letters, school assignments, meeting notes, blog posts and comments, emails, and more, making it a. sometimes difficult to remember that the narrator may not always be reliable and b. really, really fun to read.
The opening of The Ghosts of Ashbury High sets the scene for us: it’s the final year of school for Em, Lyd, Cass, Toby, and the gang. But this year, two new students appear: Riley and Amelia. And no one knows from whence they came. (Cue scary music here.) The bulk of the entries that make up the book are school assignments the students have written—and considering the assignments are to write a gothic retelling of the first term and ghostly retelling of the second, the reader is never entirely sure what’s true (did a ghost really start typing into Lydia’s computer?) and what’s the students’ flexing of their creative muscles.
Em makes it her mission to unravel the mystery surrounding the ethereal Riley and Amelia, and most of her homework assignments and blog posts involve her musings on the two new students. In typical Em fashion, they’re hilarious. Meanwhile, Lydia is dealing with the aftermath of her breakup with Seb and her parents’ weird relationship by throwing spectacular parties, while Toby has taken to sorting out the meaning of black holes and the life story of an Irish convict who was sent to Australia several centuries earlier. (Trust me, it all ties in to the story.)
And then, of course, there are Riley and Amelia themselves. Their background is a mystery, revealed with carefully placed (and misplaced) breadcrumbs that lead us back to their real stories near the end of the book. I loved them. Then I hated them. Then I admired them. Then I worried about them. And then I ended up realizing they were only a small, small part of the message Moriarty is sending with this book: about second chances, and redemption, and friendship.
For a gothic novel/ghost story, The Ghosts of Ashbury High sure is funny. It’s also wickedly smart, wholly engrossing, and has found its way on the top of my “must re-read” pile. It’s a shame to me that Moriarty isn’t more well-known here in the U.S., and I’m making it my mission to change that. You should join me.
Publication Date: June 1, 2010
Teaser quote: “There was the creeeeeeaaaaking of a door. (The door to the common room opening.) We turned as one, the three of us. And I think that we felt chilled to the bones. (In all honestly, I myseld did because the open door was letting in a draft.) For there, in the dooray, they stood: Riley and Amelia. I knew, at once, that it was they.”