Since I read two of Beth Kephart's novels back to back, I couldn't help doing the old compare-and-contrast with their protagonists. What struck me in that exercise was that Undercover's Elisa Cantor is a character who lives in her head; Nothing But Ghosts' Katie D'Amore isn't. That's not meant to imply that Katie isn't a thinking girl; she'd have to be, since her creator is Beth Kephart. But Katie is more driven to action, and more focused; she's got a particular issue she's trying to sort out.
Katie recently lost her mother to cancer, a loss that seemed to happen so quickly that she can't make sense out of it. She's trying to grasp how someone can be there one day and gone forever the next, and in the process, she's become a bit 'gone' herself, withdrawing from her friends and taking a summer job on the work crew of an estate garden, which entails long days of physical labor. The garden belongs to Miss Martine Everlast, a local recluse who hasn't been seen in town for over fifty years, and Katie grows curious about how she, too, was there one day and gone the next. An excavation project at the garden leads Katie to a research project at the local library, sorting through several boxes of recently donated 'local lore' to find clues about who Miss Martine was before she disappeared...and, perhaps, who she's become since then.
I really liked Katie. I also liked her father, Jimmy, an absent-minded-professor sort whose work is restoring paintings. His current project dovetails with Katie's own, as he discovers that the painting may have been done by Miss Martine's father, and the story it tells seems both to support what Katie is learning and suggest other questions to be answered. I liked just about every character in the novel, really, even little Sammy, the annoying kid from across the street. And while Katie's mother, Claire, has died before the story opens, she's still present within it. Nothing But Ghosts has nothing to do with anything paranormal; the 'ghosts' it's concerned with are the memories and traces and questions that remain with the living.
Kephart's writing in Nothing But Ghosts is very descriptive and evocative, and it fully immersed me in Katie's story. The two novels of hers that I've read make a convincing case that 'a teenage protagonist' really may be the only thing that defines a book as 'young adult.' Beth Kephart is an author that I probably wouldn't even know of if not for book bloggers, and I'm very glad to have been introduced to her.