The murder of Millroad Catholic Academy’s resident genius, Aaron Nguyen, shuts down student life at the boarding school in rural North Carolina…for about a week. With the resilience of youth, the student body bounces back, and the memory of murder is nothing but a streamer of caution tape fluttering in the breeze. Unfortunately for them, Aaron’s spirit has some resilience as well. The school priest’s exorcism fails, and before long Aaron is breathing chills down the students’ necks and hurling Bunsen burners at nuns.
Georgia Collins doesn’t give a shit about ghosts. All she wants is a story to prove her underground school news blog is more than a gossip column, closure on her one-sided relationship with her best friend Hiroki, and a vanilla latte. She wasn’t expecting Aaron Nguyen’s death to be anything more than a cold spot in the science hall, but since Hiroki has the curse of Spectral Sight, he is the only person who can see and speak to Aaron.
As the ghost’s demands for attention become increasingly violent, Hiroki wants Georgia to help him investigate the crime, claiming that Aaron isn’t likely to budge until his killers are caught. Still hoping for spontaneous romantic combustion, she agrees to help bring Aaron’s murderers to justice and set the vengeful spirit free…but it’s not quite the close encounter she’s hoping for.
I’m not a native North Carolinian, but I’ve been here since I was thirteen. When I saw that Lauren had a book coming out that takes place in this fair state, I was interested in giving it a look. When I understood what it was about I was even more interested. I’m a big fan of modern fantasy and I know that Lauren is a talented creative.
One of the things that I’m always on the lookout for is a book that features a strong female lead. I felt pretty sure I’d find that here, and I wasn’t disappointed. Georgia is exactly that. She’s got her fair share of insecurities and weaknesses, but none that are crippling or too dark. A sense of fun is also something that I’m on the lookout for when it comes to YA fiction in general. Too often I see characters or situations that depress me as a reader. This book is hardly SUPER HAPPY FUN TIMES!, as it does deal with the death of a teen, but it doesn’t get mired down in darkness.
Georgia has a good supporting cast in the form of her love interest Hiroki and the school’s chess master Bishop. All of the characters are as well developed as any can be in a novelette of this length. It’s the characters and their interactions that move this book along at a brisk pace, rather than the plot, and that’s another plus. The banter and humor between them go a long way towards telling us what we need to know about them and it keeps the story fun, even when things get bleak.
The only real disappointment I had with the story is that I wanted the location to play a little bit more of a role. The setting itself, a boarding school, is very important, but it feels like this could take place in just about any southern state. That’s not too much of a detraction, but more local flavor would have enhanced the story.
For people looking for a new story for their teen, I do want to give a bit of a fair warning. I don’t recall if the ages of the characters are mentioned, but context tells me that they’re in their mid to late teens (tenth grade I believe). There’s some strong language and frank sexual talk that some people might not find suitable for younger teens/tweens. I don’t think any of it is excessive a la Chuck Wendig. I was a teen myself and I seem to recall doing my fair share. But if I were to rate this a la the MPAA guidelines, I’d give it a PG/PG-13. As someone who prefers less as more when it comes to violence, strong language, etc. I think Lauren balanced those elements well. I’d easily give this to my thirteen year old in another year or two.
It sounds like this is the beginning of a series, which is all of the rage these days (and I think that’s a good thing). I look forward to what comes next for Georgia and her friends. I enjoyed this book a great deal and I strongly recommend it.
I give Exorcising Aaron Nguyen four and a half out of five rosaries.