Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

I received this book in my welcome bag at ThrillerFest last summer. Actually, someone else did, and we traded. I’d gotten an advance copy of a book by her favorite author, so I couldn’t say no when she asked to trade me. I mean, the book she was offering me had a quote from Stephen King at the top of the cover, praising it.

I decided to read it after I finished You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt. I was way behind on my reading goal for the year in my Goodreads Reading Challenge, so I decided to go on a reading binge while I wait for my edits of Our New Hope to come back from my publisher. As of this writing, I’ve technically read over a dozen books in the last few weeks, though seven were children’s books that I’m counting as a single book, and another was the start of a different children's series that I'll be counting as one book. But still, I finished “seven” books since mid-March, only one of which had I started prior to that. I’m on a roll.

The synopsis of Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay intrigued me, so it was my next choice from my stack of physical books. A young teen begins to show signs of schizophrenia, but is she actually possessed? A TV show called The Possession is made about her and her family. Madness ensues.

The book is not written in a conventional narration throughout. It is split up into three ways. Modern day, told in present tense and first person. Then there is the blog format, my most disliked in the book. The most abundant is a past tense, first person narration of the eight year old sister of the possessed girl. All are necessary for the book to be as great as it is.

When we meet Merry, the little sister of the possessed girl, she’s an adult who is being interviewed by a bestselling author for a tell-all book about her experiences surrounding The Possession. It’s a nice way to set it all up, an indicator that the bulk of the novel reads like the book that this author will be writing from Merry’s story. I like the separation of these sections via tense. Modern day is told in present tense, whereas the past is told in the standard past tense of narratives. It helps you to keep track of where you are in time. It’s slightly jarring at first, to dive in with present tense, but once we get past the blog and into the past, I feel the necessity of having the modern day in present tense. I wonder—did Tremblay have to fight to get that? If he did, I’m glad he won.

The second part of the narration to be introduced was the blog posts. I really wanted to skip over these parts, but I read them in case they revealed pertinent information. Until the last blog post of the book, I did not feel that they explained anything of great importance. Really, I just found them to be an irritation and a chore to read. I’m not much of a blog reader, even though I post my own blogs. I tend to find the “structure” of many blogs I’ve seen to be maddening. It was almost cliché to read the rants about the TV show, divulging plot points that had already been explained. The abundant use of internet speak, abbreviations, and draaaaaawwwn out words was jarring to see in a printed book. My mind didn’t want to accept it. I’m curious about this section as well. Did Tremblay fight to have this included? Or did his publisher press him to include the blog as a way to entice a growing number of internet savvy people? By the end of the book, I understood the purpose of the blog, but that didn’t make me enjoy the blogs themselves.

The bulk of the novel was told from Merry’s eight year old perspective. As a child, she was not privy to much of the background. How did the TV show come about? What was really going on with her sister, Marjorie? What was her dad really planning on doing with that jar in the basement? Her lack of knowledge really drove the book forward. It helps give the book those shades of doubt. Is Marjorie really possessed? Are some of these things that are happening truly supernatural? Or does it just seem that way through the filter of her memories? I suppose the blog does illustrate the continued cult obsession with the fifteen year old TV show, but again—that doesn’t make me like the blog sections any more.

The amazing, redeeming part of this book, was the twist ending. I won’t spoil it. But… Oh. My. God. I never saw it coming. I felt like he was careful to not foreshadow the ending. It was brilliant. It was fantastically twisted. I’m shocked, disturbed, and absolutely thrilled! I love how unsettled I was at the end of the book. This made it great for me. I loved it, despite the blogs. I might even read this book again someday.