A couple of years back I read Katie Williams’s haunting debut novel The Space Between Trees, and as soon as I saw she had a new one coming out, I knew that I wanted to read it. Williams’s first novel was full of dark themes – outsiders, missing and murdered teens, inappropriate crushes and mental instability. With Absent, she explores elements of the the afterlife, which much like life includes alienation, outcasts, teenage hierarchies and cliques, and unrequited love.
As Absent begins, Paige is a ghost, already confined to the place where she died from a fall off the roof during physics class, high school. Paige was not that popular – having only one friend, Usha, and an unacknowledged and secret relationship with Lucas, the most popular boy in school. She passes her interminable time wandering the school grounds, attending classes at random, communing with the spirits of frogs dissected in bio lab, and chatting with her only other company, Brooke and Evan- two other teens who have also had the misfortune of dying in high school. Then, two things happen. Logan’s ex-girlfriend Kelsey Pope starts a rumor that Paige jumped off the roof, and Paige learns that she can inhabit the body of other people when they are thinking about her.
Williams offers a quirky consideration of the afterlife and what ghosts can get up to in their attempts to right the wrongs of their pasts, and attempts to set the record straight. Paige has to confront others assumptions of her life, but also has to view her own criticisms of them, which she does from a radically different perspective. William’s plot is well-constructed and creative, especially when you consider the fact that the story never leaves the high school’s premises. Thoughtful and entertaining , Paige learns to come to terms with both the life she had and didn’t have in this examination of the impact of hidden relationships and social divisions. Absent is a solid effort that ensures readers will continue to seek out future projects from Williams. Recommended