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Book Review: Ghost Host
A HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL STAR TEAMS UP WITH A NERD TO FIGHT A POLTERGEIST
There aren’t a lot of scary teen books out there about the everyday concerns of hetero, cisgender boys. Many are surface level: Will I pass the test? Will the girl go out with me? Who is the killer? Am I The One? Ghost Host stands out among the hundreds of 80s/90s horror I’ve read due to a focus on sports and Bart’s inner world, and if the novel had not added these things and kept up the pace, it just would have been Twilight with ghosts instead of vampires.
Bart is quarterback and king of his new high school, but little do people in the town of Sprocketsville know that he used to be Bart the Brain, a geeky kid who read all day and hated sports; a boy who was pushed into football because of his overbearing father. Bart goes through life with a mask, terrified his new friends in the “cool crowd”, and cheerleader girlfriend Lisa, will find out and reject him. To keep up with the charade, he hides his books and dresses like royalty for the Halloween dance. If he’s not the BMOC, he’s nothing.
“Bart goes through life with a mask, terrified his new friends in the “cool crowd”, and cheerleader girlfriend Lisa, will find out and reject him.”
That’s not his only paralyzing fear. His father went bald in his early 20s, so Bart spends his days massaging homemade oil remedies into his scalp so that the nightmares he’s having of losing his hair won’t come true. My best friend in high school had the “v” going on when he was young, so Bart’s follicle anxiety is reasonable. However, we can tell these bad dreams have nothing to do with him going Vin Diesel against his will. Bart’s hair loss represents being discovered as a fraud, even if his family has embraced the new him. If the former nerd wanted to go back to the way things were, he couldn’t anyway because he learned long ago that his father’s favor is easily swayed by how much he understands you; Bart’s older sister likes to sing and his younger brother is into math, so they’re constantly dismissed by their old man. Marilyn Singer does an excellent job showing these complicated relationships while keeping the mood light. I haven’t even gotten to the part where Bart finally meets someone who accepts the real him: a pretty ghost named Millie, who is living in his house and watching him undress.
Speaking of Twilight. Millie has been there when Bart is sleeping, she knows when he’s awake. When they’re introduced on a night his parents are out of town, the delicate specter knows so much about him that there’s no way she hasn’t peeked in the shower. Come on, gurl. When I was a kid, I was terrified a ghost would watch me use the bathroom because there’s nothing stopping them.
Millie doesn’t mention whether he uses two-ply, but she does understand he’s not the person he presents to the world, and this brings them closer as they battle an evil poltergeist that has taken over the old house. See, Millie didn’t show herself to Bart for a social visit. Over the past week, strange occurrences have been happening to Bart’s family—jam jars exploding, model planes flying, noises in the night—that put Millie and the other eight “good” ghosts in the house at risk. Who you gonna call when there’s a spirit haunting your home? If Bart’s parents do bring in ghostbusters, that means Millie and her friends are destroyed, and this kickstarts a plot that involves Bart teaming up with paranormal enthusiast and full-time dork Arnie in secret to rid the home of the bad poltergeist. If he succeeds, that means his nine spook roommates will help him and his football team win the championship. Hey, I didn’t say this was Anna Karenina.
“I HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN TO THE PART WHERE BART FINALLY MEETS SOMEONE WHO ACCEPTS THE REAL HIM: A PRETTY GHOST NAMED MILLIE, WHO IS LIVING IN HIS HOUSE AND WATCHING HIM UNDRESS.”
The only problem with the book is that it doesn’t give us the love triangle that’s teased here and there; I think it would have made helping Millie survive even more imperative and emotionally tense. But while Bart thinks the ghostly girl has a great figure (his words), he’s devoted to Lisa, who’s getting pretty upset that he’s been absent lately, not realizing he’s researching how to make poltergeists go poof. Bart’s emotional affair and lack of communication is the lesson teens learn from this book—be honest about who you are, and you won’t have to live in fear or keep up with the lies.
Ghost Host is well-written and packed with football and fun dialogue, and if you read one chapter, you have to read another. There are genuine scares (who doesn’t get goosebumps hearing about basements with faulty lighting?) mixed with moments of toxic masculinity most boys can relate to. As Bart’s world falls apart in the middle of his quest to save Millie, he wavers on making the right choice, another example of Singer’s talent in fleshing out characters. When it comes to teen horror, Ghost Host is a touchdown.
Author – Marilyn Singer
Paperback, 199 pages
ISBN – 0590445057 (ISBN13: 9780590445054)
Published September 1st 1988 by Scholastic (first published August 1st 1987)
Another great YA book with football? Monster by Christopher Pike. Subscribe to Books and Boos, with Nicolina Torres for original stories and horror movie recommendations.