Ghost Most Foul

27 August 2015

Ghost Most Foul
by Patti Grayson
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$10.95 ISBN 9-781550-506143

I was able to devote almost unbroken hours to reading Ghost Most Foul by Manitoba writer Patti Grayson, and good thing: I was so swept up in this compelling juvenile novel I wanted to charge through it like an athlete storms through opponents to win a game.

For starters, Grayson really knows how to begin a book. The brief prologue hints of a plane crash, a basketball game, and a disruptive ghost. How’s that for disparate elements? My interest was immediately piqued.

The credibly-voiced protagonist, Summer, is a rising basketball star at her junior high school. She’s perceptive, caring, and enjoys a pleasant home life, but we learn that Summer has also experienced pain. She was an “easy target” for jeering bullies in elementary school due to a “crazy growth spurt” which put her a head taller than some of her classmates. Summer loses sleep over hurtful comments like “‘How’s the weather up there?’” Like many who are bullied, she tries her best not to attract attention.

Summer both idolizes her inspirational coach and feels a very strong connection to her, as we realize in this passage: “Sometimes when [Coach Nola] looked at me like that, it was as if she were running a scanner over the bar code of my deepest thoughts, because the next thing she’d say would be exactly what I needed to hear.” As the story opens, Coach Nola names Summer captain of the basketball team, much to the fellow athletes’ surprise, as another girl, Karmyn, seems a more obvious choice. It’s just before the Christmas holiday, and Coach Nola is set to enjoy a tropical vacation. Before going on the trip she will never return from – at least in human form – the coach leaves Summer with this enigmatic line: “‘It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you win the game.’” Throughout this fast-paced novel, Summer struggles to understand the meaning of this, and by the end of the story we learn its import.

Grayson, who’s also published two adult novels, addresses bullying from a less common angle, as well. The new coach – Kamryn’s soon-to-be stepfather – bullies the team’s weakest and least-liked player, Dodie Direland. He twists her surname into “Dire Straits,” and Summer Widden is tagged “Withering Heights.” The humiliation is none-too-subtle, and cuts deeply.

I appreciated that this author never let us forget that although she’s smart and articulate, the main character is still a 14-year-old girl. “‘Try playing basketball when you have your period and a ghost!’” Summer says.

Can Summer rise above her own aspirations to win the Provincials as a true leader? Can she figure out what the spirit of Coach Nola is trying to communicate by appearing only to her? And will Summer’s parents have her committed when their daughter starts exhibiting some very unSummer-like behavior?

The book holds the answers, and I’m willing to bet this novel will hook(shot) you – oh, the desire to pun was too great – just as readily as it did me.


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