Sylvie never called them ghosts, but that's what they were—not that George ever saw them herself. The new girl, Sylvie, is like a creature from another time, with her old-fashioned leather satchel, her white cotton gloves and her head in the clouds. George watches her drift around the edge of the school playing fields, guided by inaudible voices.When George stands up for Sylvie, beating back Tommy Payne and his gang of thugs, it brings her close to the ethereal stranger; though not as close as George would have liked. In the attic of Sylvie's father's antique shop, George's scars will sing and her longing will drive them both toward a tragedy as veiled and inevitable as Sylvie's whispering ghosts.
Ashley-Smith debuts with a gorgeous, melancholy coming-of-age novella about girlhood and ghosts. Fat, masculine George, an outcast at Blackworth High School, retreats into her job at the school library and ritualized self-harm at home. Then comes Sylvie, a strange new student who floats around campus with her head in the clouds. George's fascination with Sylvie blossoms into a friendship when George steps in to stop a gang of boys from harassing her. Sylvie takes George to her father's antique shop and discloses a mystical ability: whenever she touches the antiques, they whisper the sad histories of their previous owners to her. George and Sylvie's close, erotically charged friendship dissipates after high school graduation, as Sylvie moves on to a more mundane life away from the supernatural and George is left heartbroken and confused. Though the writing is immersive and the characters nuanced, the scenes of George's life without Sylvie meander, lessening the impact of the work as a whole. Still, Ashley-Smith expertly tinges his contemporary setting with Gothicism, nostalgia, and creeping dread. This eerie, ethereal tale marks Ashley-Smith as a writer to watch.