Getting Your Ears on Straight

I’ve been having a bad run lately of books with bland characters.  Even some books I’ve enjoyed have had flat, not very memorable characters.  Golden and Grey by Louise Arnold, however, has been a glorious exception to the rule.

It may just be that Grey Arthur can’t get his ears to line up.  It really may be as simple as that.  But I think that’s just part of it.

Let me back up a little.  I don’t usually like to spend large swathes of time explaining plots, but this one has a particularly complicated premise, so here goes.  Golden and Grey is the story of Tom Golden and Grey Arthur, the story of the world we know, and the world of ghosts.  Ghosts are not what you think they are.  They aren’t the spirits of humans who have died; they’re simply another kind of people who exists side by side with humans, only back when people got very scientific and logical and realized that ghosts didn’t fit their scientific and logical rules, they decided it was easier not to see ghosts–and they haven’t ever since.

Grey Arthur is a young-seeming ghost who has been trying for 300 years to figure out what he is.  He tried to be a Poltergeist, but he kept feeling bad and returning the socks he stole, so that didn’t work out very well.  When he tried to be a Sadness Summoner, his attempts at depressing poems kept turning out to have happy endings…and so on like that.

Tom Golden is a perfectly ordinary and normal human boy, who nevertheless has found himself labeled Freak Boy and picked on by bullies at his new school.

When Tom Golden and Grey Arthur both mutter “Life isn’t fair” at the same moment, a connection is formed and Grey Arthur has a revelation.  His role is to be Tom’s Invisible Friend: pulling “Kick Me” signs off of Tom’s back, putting Tom’s forgotten lunch into his locker for him, and sitting with him in the cafeteria so he won’t be alone, even if Tom doesn’t know he’s there.  And then an accident occurs and Tom becomes able to see ghosts…and things really become crazy.

This is a delightful book on so many levels.  The ghost world is elaborate and varied.  Every kind of ghost from legend seems to be represented here, from funny to scary, each neatly labeled and categorized as a type, from Headless to Faintly Real to Screamer to Thesper (you don’t want to meet a Screamer, but a Thesper would be all right).

I think it’s a good element that Tom is normal but still a social outcast–because isn’t life just that irrational and inexplicable and unfair sometimes?  If he had a weird habit or a shadowy past it would be easy to explain but not as real somehow.  He becomes much more relatable by being normal.

The plot is a good one, with twists and turns that I didn’t even get into here.

And as I started out by saying, there are excellent characters in this story.  They’re memorable, fun, and vivid.  It’s even more impressive that they’re vivid, when you consider that a lot of them are invisible.  There’s cheery Grey Arthur with his mismatched ears and his host of ghostly friends; Tom and his parents (who are just quirky enough to be interesting but stay normal); and a handful of human characters at school.  I can bring most of their names to mind, which doesn’t sound impressive, but I’m bad at remembering names, so it actually does say a lot.

There are at least three books in the series, of which I’ve read the first two (and I plan to pick up the third!)  Arnold keeps up the quality and the interest in the second by introducing a new group of very amusing characters, as well as a new threat.

Whole-hearted recommendation for these books.  Funny, entertaining, well-worth the read.

Author’s site:

UPDATE: I recently read the third book (and added its cover picture), and was glad to see the high quality maintained.  Arnold continues with the characters she introduced in the second book, and raises the stakes for the conflict to keep things exciting.  And of course I LOVED some very funny references to Grey Arthur’s mismatched ears.

2 thoughts on “Getting Your Ears on Straight

  1. Diane

    This book reminds me of the British movie, “Ghost Town,” where the dentist almost dies and suddenly can see ghosts moving about and talk to them. But this book is more complicated than the story line of the movie, which would seem to be a good thing for the reader.

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