This book is a 2007 Science Fiction & Fantasy Cybils Award Nominee.
You might not expect to be in tears at the end of a ghost story, but readers might find themselves swallowing hard with thirteen-year-old Davia in Giving Up the Ghost.
She's known that her great-aunt Mari is dying -- of cancer, that's why she and her parents left Wisconsin to come to Louisiana -- they're the last members of her family who are close by and able, and they don't believe anyone should die alone. Davia's parent don't believe that, anyway. Davia herself is afraid to look death in the face again, when it's passed so close to her life before. Her mother has only recently gone into remission from a Stage 4 cancer. She's heard a Stage 4 never really goes away, and she's looking for proof -- daily -- that her mother is going to go out of remission and die, leaving her alone with her fears and her father and his empty jokes.
Davia's therapist -- a faceless but very evident character in the novel -- thinks allowing her to spend uninterrupted time with her mother will cure her of her rather dark tendencies to believe that every little frown on her mother's face means incipient death-by-cancer, but Davia's spending time with her mother has an unexpected side effect -- her mother is also hovering over her. In the sultry southern heat, Davia's asthma chokes and stifles her, and her every cough brings her mother running -- terrified. Davia resents her mother reminding her to be careful and carry her inhaler, and with her father gone to help out in New Orleans, the two wear on each other's nerves constantly.
Davia's mother has her hands full with crotchety, demanding great- Aunt Mari -- who also fills Davia's ears with tales of ghosts and "setting things to right" before she dies. A ghost named Emilie will come to her, Mari warns and Davia has to help her -- she just has to, or peace will never come to the troubled ghost, and Belle Forêt will be doubly haunted.
Readers will have little trouble disliking Aunt Mari, the suffocating Louisiana heat and the situation Davia finds herself in, with a random rock-throwing spoiled rotten ghost and an over-worried mother. They may also struggle to get a fix on just what is troubling Davia, despite the straightforward prose, her nebulous fears and dependence on Miss Terri, her therapist, are difficult to follow. Ironically, the only ghost that manifests is that of a spoiled Creole girl who had an arranged marriage; despite the fact that they are on an old plantation, only one mention is given to slaves, and no mention is given to their deprived and tortured lives and their unavenged deaths which might lead at least a few of them to lie in unquiet graves. Despite the ghost, Davia's struggle to face her fears for herself and her family is worth reading, and make her struggle to forgive herself and find peace with loss heartfelt and real.