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Marly's Ghost

Marly's Ghost

3.0 5
by David Levithan, Brian Selznick (Illustrator)

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When Ben's girlfriend, Marly, dies, he feels his life is over. What could possibly matter now when Marly is gone? So when Valentine's Day approaches, it makes sense that this day that was once so meaningful to Ben leaves him feeling bitter and hollow. But then Marly shows up--or at least her ghost does--along with three others spirits. Now Ben must take a painful


When Ben's girlfriend, Marly, dies, he feels his life is over. What could possibly matter now when Marly is gone? So when Valentine's Day approaches, it makes sense that this day that was once so meaningful to Ben leaves him feeling bitter and hollow. But then Marly shows up--or at least her ghost does--along with three others spirits. Now Ben must take a painful journey through Valentine's Days past, present, and future, and what he discovers will change him forever.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The magical realism is powerful throughout, especially in the love story. . . . A solid story . . . (Booklist)

A great addition to the literature of the (ValentineÆs) holiday season. (Kirkus Reviews)

Publishers Weekly
In Levithan's (Boy Meets Boy) clever but rather thin retelling of A Christmas Carol, he casts sad teenaged Ben as Scrooge. Because of his girlfriend's death from cancer, he has a "bah humbug" attitude about love as Valentine's Day approaches. His girlfriend, Marly, appears to him as a ghost, telling him he will be visited by the Ghost of Love Past, Present and Future. After their visit, Ben realizes that "giving up on love is the same thing as giving up on life itself." There are some fun adaptations in this modern version; Tiny Tim, for example, is not a boy who may die, but rather a young gay couple (Tiny and Tim) at risk of breaking up. But the book, attractively packaged as an unjacketed, red cloth-covered hardcover featuring a black-and-gold embossed heart bordered with chains, takes a bit too long to unfold. While readers will sympathize with Ben who says he "wanted to die" without Marly, they will likely be ready for some action long before Marly's ghost arrives. The witty writing is also a bit too self-conscious at times (at a present-day anti-Valentine's Day party, "only the sadder love songs would be broadcast tonight: The Cure with no sense of a cure, breakup breakdowns and long-player longings"). Selznick's cross-hatch pen-and-inks give a nod to Victorian drawings and boost the novel's haunting aura. In the end, this novel has charm, but is likely more memorable for its premise than for its story line. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This novel is a faithful "remix" of the familiar Charles Dickens Christmas story. It is organized and arranged in the same pattern of five staves and three ghosts. This time, however, the story is set around Valentine's Day and the main character, Ben, is grieving the death of his girlfriend. Retelling the story with some of the same words, phrases, and events, the theme of love, of lost love and love renewed, is obviously more central to the story. Ben is a high school senior who in his grief has separated himself from his friends and memories and taken to insulting those still in love, like Tiny and Tim, two freshmen boys who are a couple. For him, "love is a humbug," and he threatens to celebrate the love-filled holiday with an "anti-Valentine's Day" party. The ghost of his girlfriend visits him on the eve of February 14 and so begins the well-known tour of loves past, present and future, this time with the Valentine's Day twist of red roses and chocolate candy. Readers who know the original will appreciate the creative twists and turns amidst the standard Dickens plot details and language. And for those who have not read the story, the high school setting and teen perspective will serve as a worthy introduction. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Penguin, Dial, 176p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Janis Flint-Ferguson
Children's Literature
As its subtitle unapologetically points out, this is "a Remix of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol." What it is remixed for is the Valentine's Day market. Levithan, of Boy Meets Boy fame, shamelessly recaps the classic in the guise of contemporary teenager Ben mourning the death of his girlfriend Marly. When his friends have all but given up on his rejoining the human race, and Ben himself contemplates suicide, Dickens's updated ghosts take over the rehabilitation project. The Ghost of Love Past takes Ben and his readers on an excruciating recap of his love affair with Marly-gone. The Ghost of Love Present sets him up as an embarrassing peeping Tom to an all-night rendezvous between Tiny and Tim, his high school's gay pair. The last ghost sends him on a mad mission to present the town's lovers with profligate batches of roses. Long before E-BEN-ezer Scrooge's saving, you might be hunting for handkerchiefs--or a place to barf. This may be the biggest piece of engineered schlock since Erich Segal's Love Story. Poor Dickens doesn't deserve it. 2006, Dial, Ages 12 up.
—Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-In this modified version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has been replaced by Ben, a high school student whose girlfriend has passed away, leaving him extremely cynical about love as Valentine's Day approaches. The creatively mutated story follows the basic action of the original as the teen is visited by Marly's ghost, then three spirits: The Ghost of Love Past, The Ghost of Love Present, and-well, you know. While this seems like a promisingly inventive way to address bereavement, nothing quite clicks in this remix of the classic. Prior knowledge of the original story seems to diminish rather than enhance the power of this adaptation. There are downright awkward moments, too. The character Tiny Tim has morphed into a pair of gay freshmen, Tiny and Tim, for example, and the young lovers' presence in the story seems gratuitous and synthetic. Selznick's pen-and-ink drawings, while very well done, don't quite seem to fit in either, reflecting the overall problem the story has establishing and sustaining a uniform tone and mood.-Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sixteen-year-old Ben has shut down because Marly, his girlfriend of three years, has died after a long illness. Ben never wants to love again-or interact with anyone. "Love is a humbug," he says; it always ends badly. The night before Valentine's Day, Marly's ghost appears, telling him he'll be visited, that night, by three more spirits. Valentine's Past, Present and Future visit showing him shadows of the Was and Might Be. And Ben, Ebenezer actually, has a change of heart. Levithan's fresh spin on Dickens's A Christmas Carol keeps most scenes and characters in one form or another. Fred and Sarah are Ben and Marly's best friends. Freshmen Tiny and Tim are a gay couple in the blush of new love. Selznick bases his wonderful pen-and-ink illustrations on the original engravings. With nary a reference to the original in the text, this remix of the classic will likely be adored by those young enough not to be tired of Christmas Carols past-especially teen girls. A great addition to the literature of the (Valentine's) holiday season. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

I opened my eyes and found that the Spirit and I were in front of a certain warehouse door.

"Know it?" the Spirit asked.

"Know it!" I exclaimed. "This is where I learned everything."

It couldn't be anywhere else - we had to be at Fezziwig's.

Fezziwig had been a senior when I was a freshman. It was only dumb luck that had brought me into his orbit - during our first week of school, he had put flyers for a Creative Anachronism Club into a dozen randomly selected lockers; I had gotten one, and was the only kid to show up at the "orientation." Fezziwig was a big guy - if he'd been two inches taller, he would have knocked his head on most ceilings - but he filled every inch of his soul with what I can only call mirth.

His parents were artists, and every now and then they'd let Fezziwig throw a party in their studio. That was where the Spirit and I now stood.

"Why, it's Fezziwig!" I cried in great excitement as we walked inside. "He's back!" Sure enough, the Fezziwig I remembered was sitting at his high desk, scribbling away in one of the ledgers he used as notebooks. Then he laid down his pen and looked up at the clock. I knew exactly what occasion this was: Valentine's Day three years ago. I knew this because of Fezziwig's outfit - a capacious waistcoat and a cupid-print tie. Rubbing his hands, he called out in a comfortable, jovial voice:

"Yo ho, there! Ben! Marly!"

My former self came in briskly from another room, accompanied by fourteen-year-old Marly. We were both used to the way Fezziwig talked - this wonderful affectation that was so ridiculous that it couldn't possibly be considered pretentious.

"Yo ho, my boys!" said Fezziwig. "We're having a party to end all parties, so let's have the shutters up before a man can say Jack Robinson!"

I rarely knew what he was talking about, but it didn't matter - if I didn't know the specific phrasings, I knew the enthusiasm that lay underneath. It was amazing how quickly Marly and I went to work, charging to the windows and opening all of the shutters before you could count to twelve, panting like racehorses when the effort was through.

"Hilli-ho!" cried Fezzwig, skipping down from the high desk with amazing agility for a guy his size. "Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Marly! Chirrup, Ben!"

Clear away! There was nothing we wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away, with Fezziwig looking on. Fezziwig loved to be larger than life, and Marly and I were happy apprentices to that. After being together in a big way for more than a year, astonished to find ourselves sharing so much together. I think Fezziwig enjoyed our glow as much as we enjoyed his. When we'd been apart, Marly and I had each felt like halves. But together, we were so much more than that.

We cleared the warehouse in what seemed like a minute. Every movable object was packed off for its own safety; the floor was swept and shined, the colored lightbulbs were fitted into their sockets, and fuel was heaped upon the fire, our best source of heat. The warehouse was as snug and warm and dry and bright a ballroom as you would hope to see on a winter's night. It was something magical.

In came a DJ with his milk crates of records. He went up to the lofty desk and made a DJ booth out of it, preparing his backbeats as Marly, Fezziwig, and I put out bowls of candy and bigger bowls of love-red punch. Fezziwig's mother poked her head in, one vast, substantial smile, followed by his beaming and lovable father and curious little sister. In no time, the guests began to swirl in, throwing their jackets onto easels, revealing the soul of their clothes. In they came, one after another - some shyly, some boldly; some gracefully, some awkwardly; some pushing, some pulling - anyhow and everyhow, as Fezziwig would say. It was a conversational and flirtatious dance, couples and singles all at once, hands fluttering and faces tilted in laughter, friends walking to one corner then through the middle to another corner to greet another group. Old couples running into each other in the wrong place; new couples starting off on their newfound footing. The air was filled with the music of a dozen or more conversations, with the DJ's loops and beats moving underneath.

I had found an old orchestra conductor's jacket in a thrift store a few days before, and was wearing it as the DJ pushed the music harder, and I bopped and flailed and burned along. Marly was wearing a dress the color of cinnamon, chosen to match the shoes I'd just bought her, the ones she'd wanted so badly. For the fast songs, we danced without touching, opening ourselves out into circles upon circles of friends and strangers. For the slow songs, she lifted her hands behind my neck so I could feel the charms of her bracelet lightly against my skin. I knew then how happy I felt, but it wasn't until now, watching, that I witnessed how happy I looked. Every joy I saw in her was reflected in me. At one point, Fezziwig clapped his hands to stop the dancing, crying out, "Well done!" The DJ plunged his hot face into a pot of punch, especially provided for that purpose. But upon his reappearance he instantly began again. He moved as if the first DJ had been carried home, exhausted, and he was a brand-new man resolved to beat him out of sight. There were more dances, and there were forfeits and more dances, and there was cake, and there was a game we called Cupid's Arrow, and there were pies and plenty of punch. But the best part of the evening came after the cake, when the artful DJ struck up the Sir Roger de Coverley remix of a Madonna song. Then Fezziwig stood out to dance with Marly, and I was happy to oblige. Soon they were surrounded on the floor by other dancers who were not to be trifled with, people who would dance, even if it meant they wouldn't be able to walk after.

But if there had been twice as many people on the warehouse floor - or even four times as many - Fezziwig and Marly would have been a match for them. She was worthy to be his partner, and I lavished her with high praise from the sidelines, happy to see her throw her hesitations to the floor and be happy. A positive light appeared to issue from her, shining in every part of the dance like moonlight. As if rehearsed, she and Fezziwig took over the floor with some old-style moves. And when they had gone all through the dance - advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle and back again to your place - Fezziwig cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, coming upon his feet again without a stagger.

The whole crowd burst into applause. Even the unpresent I, standing next to the Spirit, silently applauded.

When the clock struck eleven, the dance broke up. Fezziwig took his station by the door, shaking hands with the guests as they went out, wishing them love.

Marly found me again and said she was feeling a little woozy. I assured her it was just the dancing, and she easily agreed.

We were the last ones to shake Fezziwig's hand and wish him a good night. I watched as the two of us left the room. My heart and soul were in the scene. I corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything. It wasn't until now, when the bright faces of my former self and Marly had turned from me and the Spirit, that I remembered the Ghost and became conscious that she was looking fully at me. The light upon her head burned very clear.

"Such a small thing," she said, "to make these folks so full of gratitude."

"Small!" I echoed incredulously.

"It's just a party," the Spirit pointed out.

"It isn't that," I said. "You have to understand - he's one of those people who finds the greatest happiness in making everyone else happy. He didn't have to do it; he could have used his wit to taunt us just as easily as he used it to embrace us. His power came from words and looks, from things so slight and insignificant that it's impossible to count them. The happiness he gave us was priceless. It was never just a party." I watched as Fezziwig began to clear the remnants of the celebration, then smiled to himself and gave up for the night. It was only then that I let myself step out of the moment. Even though I couldn't see my younger self and Marly anymore, I knew where they were going. We had planned such a big night - she had told her parents she was staying at Sarah's, and I had told my parents that I was staying at Fred's. But instead Fezziwig had given us the key to his place, a small apartment above his family's garage. It was going to be our first night alone together. I had brought champagne and strawberries. She had carefully selected the music.

But of course when we got there, her wooziness hadn't gone away. I carved little valentine hearts into the Tylenol before she took them.

It didn't help.

Nothing would end up helping . . . although we didn't know it then. So we could still eat strawberries and play music quietly and leave the champagne for another day and kiss slow-gently and sleep a whole night in the same bed, each of us waking constantly, muttering contentments before going back to sleep.

My heart had grown too warm to freeze again immediately. So as I stood there in the dark warehouse, I was everything in-between.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
The magical realism is powerful throughout, especially in the love story. . . . A solid story . . . (Booklist)

A great addition to the literature of the (Valentine's) holiday season. (Kirkus Reviews)

Meet the Author

David Levithan is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of many books for teens, including Boy Meets Boy, Every Day, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn), and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with John Green). He is also a publisher and editorial director at Scholastic and teaches at The New School in New York. He lives in New Jersey.

Brian Selznick graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. He has since gone on to be an award-winning author-illustrator of many books for children, including The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which won the Caldecott Medal in 2008 and was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese) and the New York Times bestseller Wonderstruck. Brian lives in Brooklyn, New York, and San Diego, California.

Brief Biography

Hoboken, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
New Jersey
B.A., Brown University, 1994

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Marly's Ghost 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
if one doesn't agree with the ideas in this book, then one shouldn't read it and act so appauled by it. times are changing, and this book is a great example of how things are changing and most people are ready for it. it's not a war on culture, it's an adaption of what culture is. get used to it
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic book. To anyone with an OPEN MIND and half a brain, this story is easy to enjoy. In the year 2007, having gay characters in a story shouldn't even be an issue. I highly recommend Marly's Ghost.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First of all M gonzalez,three words: be open minded. Second of all, I LOVED this book and recommend it to anyone.
cupcakesrock More than 1 year ago
This book seemed decent but it was to much lie the Christmas carol. The boy goes through so much and 3 ghost come vist him at night. It was decent but not to great
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't believe homosexual behavior should be glossed as normal. Nor should love and diviate sex be confused. Christ loves us so much he wants to spend eternity with us, We all should choose wisely before forsaking God Grace by our behavioral choice.