Title: The Ghosts We Keep
Author: Mason Deaver
Publication date: June 1st 2021
Age-range/genre: Young-Adult; LGBT+, Contemporary,
Trigger warnings: death of a family member, self-harm, suicide ideation, mentioned transphobia, gender dysphoria, panic attacks, mental illness.
Rating: 5/5 stars
When Liam Cooper’s older brother Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run, Liam has to not only learn to face the world without one of the people he loved the most, but also face the fading relationship with his two best friends.
Feeling more alone and isolated than ever, Liam finds themself sharing time with Marcus, Ethan’s best friend, and through Marcus, Liam finds the one person that seems to know exactly what they’re going through, for the better, and the worse.
This book is about grief. But it’s also about why we live. Why we have to keep moving on, and why we should.
The Ghosts We Keep is a moving and devastating story about our main character, Liam, dealing with the loss of their brother and all the things that come with grief and sadness from losing a loved one. The whole book is raw and genuine. Deaver says in the author’s note that this is a personal story to them, and you can feel it on the page, in every moment of heartbreak, in every chapter.
Warning: this book and review talks a lot about death and grief, so please proceed with caution.
I just wanted him back. I wanted him back more than anything I’d ever wanted before.
☆ My favourite things about The Ghosts We Keep ☆
★ non-linear format
★ casual queer rep
★ exploration of grief
★ covers important topics e.g toxic friendships and moving on
This book does not miss a beat. It doesn’t glamorise or glorify death in any way, it shows you just how absolutely difficult and tragic it can be. It’s moving and captivating, and I loved the entire journey it took me on.
I’ve been anticipating this novel since I read Deaver’s debut, I Wish You All the Best, and fell in love with the writing and how brilliant the non-binary representation was. The Ghosts We Keep also features a non-binary main character, as Liam goes by both they/them and he/him pronouns, and also has other queer characters, but coming out isn’t the focus of this.
Liam doesn’t struggle with their identity, but being non-binary is wrapped up in their grief – when Ethan is gone, the boy who was the perfect son, Liam can’t help but feel that survivor’s guilt they feel of not being the Golden kid, the prodigal son, the one their parents put all their hopes and dreams upon. It’s these feelings and so much more that result in the turbulent experience of this novel.
I was in my belief that grief was a straightforward thing—
Here’s the thing about grief – it’s not a straightforward path. You don’t go on day by day and watch the feeling lessen. Sometimes it gets easier to deal with, but sometimes you wake up with an ache in your chest as you remember the person you lost. The format of this book really reflects that, as it shows the times ‘after’ Ethan’s death and how everyone grieves, and the times ‘before’ his death too to highlight Liam’s memories with him. It makes the story even more powerful because you can get to know Ethan more, and see the bond that Liam has with their brother, both their squabbles and their soft moments.
I’m always a sucker for seeing good sibling dynamics in books, and The Ghosts we Keep really delivers this. The bond between Ethan and Liam isn’t a particularly strong bond – there are spats and arguments, but there are also so many good times as well. They’re not best friends, but do they need to be? They’re siblings, and they loved each other so much and that much was evident. The relationship felt so real that it made me think of my own siblings, and it tore me apart just seeing how much Liam losing their big brother affected them.
—grief is a complicated, ugly, messy thing. And it makes you do complicated, ugly, messy things.
The novel expertly shows how losing a loved one effects people in different ways too, and that people grieve differently. There were times when I felt so bad for Liam, wanted to tell the people hurting them that can’t you see what they’ve been through?? but a lot of the people surrounding Liam are also experiencing loss. Their parents lost someone they loved, and so did Marcus. No one knows how to deal with a situation like this, and even though it hurt to read it’s so completely honest.
Deaver does not shy away from the ugly moments of grief. Liam is hurting and it leads to lashing out at people. In the author’s note, Deaver states that Liam is “a pain in the ass” sometimes, which might make it difficult for people to read, and I know that some people may think Liam is too unlikeable. However, I never felt that way. I liked Liam from the beginning, and felt for all their anger and hurt and sadness that made them snap at others.
Even in the friendship breakdown – while their best friends truly did mess up, Liam also lashed out at them during their times of anxiety and anguish. I also appreciated the depiction of friendship breakdown that does unfortunately happen when you’re a teenager and experience something harrowing, and I love how real it all felt (even if I did sob for hours).
I cried for myself, and all the hurt I’d caused, and all the pain I felt. But most of all, I cried for Ethan because he was no longer here.
At the end of the day, there is no cure all or easy way to cope with loss, and that’s okay. It’s tough and its bleak and difficult, but the important thing to do is to reach out for help when you need it. The most you can do is remember them and try to continue living and lean on the people you still have. And I’ll forever remember this book and how it tore my heart in two and put it back together and keep going too.
Thank you all for reading. Sending everyone my love 💕
Links for The Ghosts We Keep: