Book Review: ‘The Ghosts We Keep’ by Mason Deaver Is a Haunting and Thoughtful Exploration of Grief

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Scholastic Inc.

After a strong debut with I Wish You All the Best, Mason Deaver returns with their sophomore novel, The Ghosts We Keep. The book follows Liam, a high school junior struggling not to crumble in the aftermath of losing their brother in a fatal hit-and-run. Meanwhile, they begin to feel increasingly lonely, navigating the shifting relationships with their parents and their best friends. Soon, Liam finds solace with someone they didn’t quite expect.

Note: While this review is spoiler-free, the book contains scenes that some readers may find triggering. Please take care when reading.

At the forefront of the story is loss and grief, which they begin to realize isn’t so straightforward. Deaver does an excellent job delving into the different ways in which grief manifests, exploring the several complexities. Readers are able to gain insight to how Liam struggles to understand the swirl of emotions they feel. While the story is told in first person, Deaver remains mindful of the way Ethan’s death effects his and Liam’s parents. They include small but important details that display how Ethan’s parents grieve while also trying to carry on in their new life without Ethan. Finally, readers also learn about Marcus, Ethan’s best friend, and the difference in his response.

Another aspect I found compelling about the book is Liam in general. They’re such a dynamic and multi-faceted character, I found myself wanting more by the time I reached the ending. Liam truly comes alive. Through Liam, Deaver brings another host of subjects to the story beyond grief. First, Deaver introduces a character who’s deeply lonely, exacerbated by grief and the strain it causes between Liam and their best friends Joel and Vanessa. Readers learn about Liam’s escape into music and the importance it holds for them. This particularly stood out to me because Liam uses it as a form on connection and communication with others, further bolstering its significance. Deaver also examines queerness and how Liam has learned about and embraced being non-binary.

The Ghosts We Keep is a noticeable departure from what readers grew accustomed to in Deaver’s first book, but it’s just as worthwhile. First and foremost, Deaver takes such care crafting each of their characters. The Before and After structure allows Deaver to explore each topic in a deeper and intriguing way that I, personally, don’t think a solely After setup would. But perhaps most important is how skillfully they capture grief. I won’t lie — The Ghosts We Keep is heavy. It’s laced with grief and heartache. However, within the sadness is hope and a reminder to push on. For readers who have experienced similar events, it can also be a source a comfort – a book that screams “you’re not alone.” This is a book that belongs on every single bookshelf.

The Ghosts We Keep is available now in stores and online.

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By Julia
Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.
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