Foreword Reviews

Water Ghosts

2015 INDIES Finalist
Finalist, Young Adult Fiction (Children's)

Clarion Rating: 5 out of 5

An ancient Chinese junk packed with delinquent teens and ghosts alike sets off on a dangerous voyage in this fantastic book.

Adventure on the high seas, a Chinese ghost hungry for life, and a setting that’s as dangerous as it is alluring combine to produce a thoroughly satisfying read in Linda Collison’s Water Ghosts.

Narrator James is fifteen when he is shanghaied by his mother, signed up and packed off against his will for an adventurous voyage aboard an ancient (and engineless) Chinese junk. Billed as a character-building trip for troubled teens, the excursion will take James from the safety of Hawaii far across the Pacific to the doldrums, the international date line, and nearly, quite literally, to hell itself—no cell phones or electronics allowed.

The author has a wonderful feel for teens, and James and his fellow passengers emerge as more misunderstood than delinquent. With a new boyfriend in tow, James’s mother views him as an inconvenient third wheel; Ming’s wealthy and successful adoptive parents have shelved her because she hasn’t turned into a child prodigy; weapons-obsessed Truman is simply a socially inept nerd who likes to see how guns and catapults work. Even the group bully isn’t as much of a thug as he pretends to be. Everything might go swimmingly if it weren’t for one little problem: James knows the ship is doomed. Ghostly voices and visions have revealed a horrifying fate to him, one that unfolds slowly across the long nautical miles.

The slow build of tension is one of the book’s delights. Collison, an experienced sailor, captures the vast eeriness of the ocean, weaving in references to true-life murders and vanishings at sea. A trip into the dark hold for supplies means venturing among ghosts packed in like sardines and struggling to escape and take possession of the healthy young bodies on deck. When Yu, the centuries-old spirit of a Chinese eunuch, tells the story of his hopeless attachment to a concubine fated to die with her emperor, his hypnotic narrative nearly costs James his life. The pace gradually accelerates to a page-turning finale with enough twists and turns to keep readers off guard, and the doomed junk finally does fulfill its advertised promise to provide a character-building experience.

James’s voice is relatable and often laced with sarcastic teen wit. With this leavening, believable characters, a well-constructed plot, and writing that avoids all the possible clichés, Water Ghosts should appeal not only to teens but to adults looking for a jolt of adventure or a reminder of what being a teen feels like.

Reviewed by Susan Waggoner

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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