Please note before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Electric Monkey, an imprint of Egmont UK. I received a digital advanced readers copy of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion of this title influenced by the fact that I received this publication free of charge. Now on with the review!
Length: 184 pages
Published: January 2015
Source: Digital ARC from NetGalley
A remix of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with a Valentine’s twist
When Ben’s girlfriend, Marly, dies, he feels his life is over and the prospect of Valentine’s day without her fills him with bitterness. But then Marly arrives – or at least, her ghost does – along with three other spirits. Now Ben must take a journey through Valentines past, present and future – and what he learns will change him forever.
Initially I haven't actually read anything solo by David Levithan. I have however read some of his joint works, including Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by himself and Rachel Cohn as well as the partnership of Will Grayson, Will Grayson written with John Green. So when I saw this on NetGalley I jumped at the chance, especially as it's a modern day retelling of an old classic, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Obviously though there are some differences and most of them lie in the time period, instead of Victorian London at Christmas time, Marly's Ghost takes place around Valentines Day in the modern day. But does it match up as a worthy tribute to a timeless classic? Let us see. So what did I think of it?
Cover - Obviously as this book has been a re-release since it's original release back in 2005, the cover has varied. I do really enjoy this cover, it's not so much dynamic but rememberable. It fits in with all of David Levithan's covers at the minute where the words of the story make up the images. In this case we have what looks to be two sides of a broken heart pendant? It could be in relation to Marly's charm bracelet but I like the way it reflects the rosy and romantic left side and the depressingly dark black side. This links into the overall theme of the story about redemption and acceptance of love really well and I appreciate it a lot.
Plot - Realistically when discussing the plot of this novel I have to bear in mind that in the authors notes Levithan acknowledged using the original text and adapting it slightly to suit his story, so in reality I feel partial to reviewing Dickens' classic text. Perhaps that will be a future review. So in comparison to the original, this story focuses around the character development of Ben Scrooge after the loss of his girlfriend of many years, Marly. This novel takes place four months after her death and explores themes of loss, recovery, illness and hope. Now very similarly to the original text, after giving up on love, Ben is visited by the ghost of his dead girlfriend, who is weighed down by chains and objects that Ben is still holding onto. I just want to express the focus on that this only takes place four months after her death. For a character to simply get over and move on with life, it is my personal opinion that if the person who died was a significant other then I would not be expecting anyone to get over it that soon. Heck, it's been over six months after my dog died and I'm still not over it. The story goes on to Ben being visited by three ghosts linking to his love past, present and future. Now going into this book I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but what I found was for me quite difficult to process. The pace of this book is spot on, it flows quite gradually and gets more intense as the story reaches it's peaks but I found the writing to be a slight issue. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that the writing felt bad in any way, it just sort of jumbled around at times and felt slightly out of place. For example; there are many scenes that were extremely well written and did feel like it matched up with Levithan's description of A Christmas Carol remix, however the dialogue in this felt very out of place. I understand that Leviathan critically analysed the text and wanted to make sure all of the themes were in place, but this story just seemed to be a sentence for sentence translation of the original text. The character's dialogue is very reminiscent of Victorian England and for a modern day adaptation this felt lost with the rest of the story.
Characters - In this book we are introduced to a short cast of characters, I mean it is a short book at being under 200 pages, we can't expect a huge range but there was a broad mix in terms of how realistic they felt to me. Ben's character I thought was superb, except for his dialogue, and I did manage to feel a lot of sympathy for his character, especially on how everyone expected him to just get up and move on. With his development throughout this short story, Ben's character produces some very powerful and thought provoking sentences and this really promoted the realism of his character - providing him with a great deal of sympathy that I feel you never really feel for the original Ebenezer. The ghosts were all very individual and I got a great mental image in terms of what each of them looked like and the messages that each of them possessed (especially the ghost of love present) were very powerful and realistic. Ben's friends to me felt very underdeveloped, I didn't really feel anything for them, especially Fred who seemed extremely lacking for a best friend character. In reality I didn't really feel anything sympathy for any of the friend characters, bar two, but it was simply down to the fact that they were in a sense forcing Ben to attend to Valentines' party and to move on. The only other people that I felt anything for really were Tiny and Tim, and no I'm not kidding, that are their names. Now Tiny and Tim are the token gay couple in this novel, I mean after all it is a Levithan novel I wouldn't expect anything less, but there story throughout was quite meaningful and I liked how they had a major impact on Ben's encounters with the final two ghosts. My final note on the characters would be that considering Marly was the underlying focus and impact on this story I would have liked to see her character develop in relation to Ben's memories. There is the scene where he discusses with her about shaving his head to make her feel more included and I thought this was a sweet scene that I wished there were more of.
So overall this was a cute and powerful adaptation shall we say? It resonated very powerful themes and lessons learned as the story progressed and I did really enjoy it. It was just a shame that the dialogue for me was still stuck in the Victorian era for such a modern retelling. I enjoyed the focus on Valentines' day and the thoughts in regards to love. It definitely targets those who question whether being in love is worth all the hassle and whether Valentines' day is a marketing ploy or could it mean more than you once thought? I give Marly's Ghost a 3 out of 5 star rating and I look forward to reading another book by this author.