Nov 042009
Authors: Savannah King

In keeping with a belated Halloween spirit, let’s review a book about ghosts.

Teenage ghosts at that. Not much is scarier or weirder than teenagers, right?

In fact, Peter S. Beagle’s “Tamsin” features a whole host of creepy, unearthly creatures, not only ghosts, but the fairy-like pookas, the household spirits called billy-blinds, the phantasmal group of huntsmen Wild Hunt and more.

Set in modern day England, a young girl named Jenny is transplanted unwillingly from her home in New York to a Dorset estate called Stourhead Farm.

There, she accidentally discovers the ghost of a 19-year-old girl named Tamsin who sits alone with her ghostly cat Miss Sophia Brown.

The lonely Jenny befriends Tamsin, and for a good chunk of the novel, they spend their time wandering around Stourhead, talking.

Turns out, Tamsin’s been dead about 300 years, and has just been hanging around her old home since that time, but her fuzzy memory prevents her from discerning why she stayed.

Jenny spends the remainder of the novel delving into Tamsin’s past, and eventually, in a couple of appropriately terrifying scenes, lays Tamsin’s spirit to rest.

While the book is well written, the plot is not terribly imaginative, and while the love scenes are pretty “aww” worthy, they’re nothing special or new, even if they are between ghosts.

The real appeal in this book relies on you being, or having been at one point, a young teenage girl.

Possibly it relates to men, too. I’ve never been one though, so I honestly can’t say.

But for women, Beagle gets everything right — the awkwardness, the strangeness, the confusion and the weird, grumpy moods and dissatisfaction with yourself that you will eventually (hopefully) grow out of.

Readers, the female ones at least, will hark back to the hours spent poking at hormonal faces in the mirror, mooning over cute boys and whispering in the dark at sleepovers.

Jenny is a perfect reflection of many women at that age.

In fact, as a review by Elisabeth Carey puts it, probably the scariest part of this novel is “that Peter Beagle seems to remember being an adolescent girl.”

It is this forced flashback to youth that enables readers to fall in love with these rather stereotypical characters — with Jenny, because at one point, the reader was her, and with Tamsin, because she is that best friend everyone either had and adored, or longed for.

“What I thought, and what I still think, and always will, is that she saw me,” says Jenny of Tamsin. “Nobody else has ever seen me — me, Jenny Gluckstein — like that . Love is one thing — recognition is something else.”

Book reviewer Savannah King can be reached at

This article has been corrected

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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