Author: Katie Williams
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Seventeen-year-old Paige is dead, the victim of a freak fall during Physics class. Now she's a ghost, permanently bound to the high school grounds. It isn't all bad, she can discover everyone's secrets, which is amusing. For a while. But then she hears something that isn't funny: a rumour spread by the most popular girl that Paige's fall wasn't an accident, that she jumped on purpose. She's desperate to stop the gossip, but she can she do? Then, she discovers she can possess the living when they're thinking about her, and make them do almost anything. Maybe she can get inside the head of the girl who's responsible for the stories, and maybe she can have a little fun turning the tables.
Absent is a witty and intelligent exploration. An exploration of one teenage girl's death and the life she lives after it, an exploration of the truth behind her death, an exploration of those around her. While on the surface this is one ghost girl's mission to discover why she died, there's also a revelation of the hidden sides of the cliques and social groups that populate high schools, and that quite often people are more than the labels we put on them.
Paige is dead, which sucks. She doesn't want to be dead, she wants to be alive, to hang out with her friend Usha, to maybe secretly make out with a certain guy, but things don't always work out the way we want. Instead, she's a ghost who can't leave the grounds of the high school. At least she's not alone, she has Evan and Brooke, two misfit teens who also died in the school (plus so many dissected frog ghosts).
Along with a ghost story is a study on the differing social classes and social structures of the modern day high school setting. There are different personalities and likes and dislikes and character traits all coming together in one hormone-soaked mass, and they're all expected to get along, but they don't. It's like so much oil and water being forced together. But everyone has their similarities, their moments of teenage immaturity and vulnerability. They all wear masks, partially out of self-perservation but partially because of stereotyping. As unhealthy as it can be, everyone does it. We have to remember that behinds the masks and the labels, behind the pre-conceived notions about popularity and wealth and life choices, they're still people not that different from ourselves.
What if there was life after death? Paige's death gives her a chance to learn more about her fellow classmates than she ever would've learned while she was alive, and she'd be foolish if she didn't use that to the best of her abilities. Even if that ability involved a little possession now and then.
(I acquired an advance copy as ALA Midwinter.)