Ruined: A Novel
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Rebecca couldn’t feel more out of place in New Orleans, where she comes to spend the year while her dad is traveling. She’s staying in a creepy old house with her Aunt Claudia, who reads Tarot cards for a living. And at the snooty prep school, a pack of filthy-rich girls treat Rebecca like she’s invisible. Only gorgeous, unavailable Anton Grey seems to give Rebecca the time of day, but she wonders if he’s got a hidden agenda. Then one night, in Lafayette Cemetery, Rebecca makes a friend. Sweet, mysterious Lisette is eager to talk to Rebecca, and to show her the nooks and crannies of the city. There’s just one catch.
Lisette is a ghost.”
I picked up this story as an e-book from Barnes and Noble because it was selling for only $2.99, and I’m really glad that I did. It’s not incredibly long, clocking in at only 234 pages, but there isn’t a wasted word in this lean little novel. This is one that you can get through in an afternoon and from which you’ll get great satisfaction.
Admittedly, there is a bit of predictability in the story. It’s not hard to figure out how Lisette relates to the spooky stories that swirl around Rebecca’s school, nor is it difficult to imagine why Rebecca might be seeing a ghost that no one else sees. Near the end, events proceed in a fairly straightforward manner, so much so that I was mentally chastising the main character and her aunt for not seeing what was going on. It would have been nice if Rebecca had realized her peril and chosen to go on with things anyway, but she was just clueless, and that was a bit annoying.
On the other hand, I don’t feel that this detracts from the novel, even if it did make me grumble a bit. The author has gone to a lot of trouble to present readers with a portrait of New Orleans’s culture, and not just the chaos of Mardi Gras. Much of the action revolves around family connections, the concept of a “cultural elite”, and issues of class differences. It’s worth noting that the story takes place a few years after Hurricane Katrina, and while the storm doesn’t play a significant part in the novel, the realities left from the event provide a backdrop against which we see the teenagers who feel themselves to be among the aforementioned elite.
Thankfully, Rebecca isn’t one of those snooty kids. She’s much more practical and down to earth, and she’s stuck in a school with people who think only of parties and parades. Having just moved there, Rebecca is also very much the outsider, and the author’s portrait of how she feels at school and how she’s treated are spot on. Boy, did I feel for her.
It’s the interplay between Rebecca and this culture, as well as the richly described atmosphere of New Orleans itself, that helps make this murder mystery so compelling. It all works together as a window into a world that many of us will never experience. For me, the setting and the social aspects of this novel were extremely interesting, and they really helped to flesh out the story.
I’m eager to get my hands on the sequel, which comes out in a couple of weeks. Rebecca is a character who is easy to like, and the world of New Orleans is infused with enough mysticism and secrecy to provide fodder for many more stories. Ruined works as a mystery and a ghost story, with a bit of history thrown in to sweeten the pot. There’s something for everyone, so I recommend that you pick up this novel and lose an afternoon in the Big Easy.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on January 24, 2013.