It's hard to believe this is a first novel. The writing is skilful and assured. Plot, character, and the sense of place are all well-realized. And it has that indefinable something that makes a reader feel by the second page that you are in for a sizeable rewards.
Darien's little brother has died of leukemia, and the sense of frozen grief, of isolation, and of the gradual return to some sort of ordinary life and peace of soul is the subtext to this account of supernatural terror and compassion
A good ghost story has to have a respectable sense of theology. You want to know whether the book presupposes a belief in God, in Heaven or Hell, in Limbo, what sort of interdependence body and spirit have. The writer of a ghost story doesn't need to be specific, but as you read you have to feel that there is some underlying coherence. Horrocks doesn't go into details, except for one quiet sentence, "Maybe God lets people come back to visit," and you have a most satisfactory sense of mystery and the numinous even though a full explanation isn't articulated. She also resists the pitfall of having the supernatural phenomena explainable by natural causes. It isn't a dream, hallucination, psychological aberration, or wish-fulfilment. There is indisputably a ghost. Which is as it should be.
One serious implausibility, though. Darien is twelve when his brother's leukemia is diagnosed, and throughout the accounts of hospital treatments, side-effects, and his parents' reactions, he is constantly coming home to an empty house, spending the evening alone, and waking up to find his parents not home yet. No decent parent (and these are obviously responsible people) would under those circumstances ever leave a child by himself. You take it in shifts, you call on relatives, you hire baby-sitters, you arrange care with neighbours and friends, but never, never do you leave a kid alone at such a time, no matter how tormented and distracted you are.
If you can forgive and overlook this, though, you are in for a heart-breaking, lump-in-the-throat, spine-tingling read. l