Richard Peck

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Bruce Clements

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All ghost stories turn on the question of whether the ghost is real or not…. If she's real, the writer has to be very good to keep the story from becoming melodramatic claptrap.

[In The Ghost Belonged to Me] Peck is very good. His ghost is believable and affecting, and so is his hero. Alexander is direct, he knows what he wants, he's not too embarrassed by his faults, he's observant, he's honest. And he has an elegant style, at once down-to-earth and courtly.

Alexander's most impressive quality is his sense of justice, the care he takes to report honestly what he saw and felt and to give everyone, with the unfortunate exception of his family, a fair hearing. He talks eagerly about his adventures with Inez but in a style that reflects his reluctance to believe in her. The evidence of her reality accumulates slowly; avenues of scientific or medical explanation are shut off gently, carefully, clearly, one by one. As a result, the reader believes in the ghost before Alexander does and inwardly urges him to accept her. We become evangelists in her behalf.

Peck does a few things that are unpleasant and don't work. For comic purposes, and to add a little of the mandatory sex, he gives Alexander a silly older sister and allows her more freedom by far than her class or her parents would ever have permitted her. Her big scene, a coming-out party destroyed by a drunken suitor, is believable but it's not important and it's not funny. A second comic female also bombs. She's the kitchen-maid, Gladys, and every time she comes on the scene it's like watching a rerun of The Brady Bunch.

In place of a mother and father we get cartoons: flat, predictable, failed people, one hysterical and the other given to sardonic one-liners. They would be easier to accept if Alexander weren't telling the story, if we were listening to someone less intelligent and fair.

After Inez has found rest, Alexander loses his gift. He knows, he says, that there will be "no place for being receptive to the Spirit World in my future." So the notion that childhood is a time of revelation is given another ride, probably for the usual purpose, to permit us to praise openness without feeling that we ought to try to imitate it.

Why should Peck, having written such a neat story, feel the need to reassure young readers that they will soon be grownup, happy, and narrow? It's an odd, unnecessary and unpleasant way to end a well-told story. (pp. 11, 75)

Bruce Clements, "Believable Ghosts and Heroes," in Psychology Today (copyright © 1975 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 9, No. 4, September, 1975, pp. 11, 75.

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