Signs of You by Emily France
Riley’s mother has been dead for two years when Riley spots her in a Heinen’s supermarket, nonchalantly perusing bubble bath as though she wasn’t even supposed to be six feet beneath the cold Ohio ground. Same face, same hair, same clothes she was buried in. It’s unmistakable, but when Riley pursues her, she turns out to be someone else. It might have been a fluke or a trick of the light, but the fact is that Riley’s not the only one seeing ghosts. Her friend Jay’s dad appears in the body of a man sitting on a bench by the river, and her friend Kate sees her own Aunt Lilly and deems the sighting “totally end times.” The only one who isn’t seeing dead people is the gang’s science geek friend, Noah, who lost his brother to suicide.
In Signs of You, Emily France tells the story of these four midwestern high school students who, while dealing with typical teen challenges, must also navigate the grief of having lost someone close to them. Toss in the ghostly reappearance of those deceased loved ones, reappearances which may or may not have something to do with a 16th-century Catholic saint, and you’ve got one page-turner of a YA ghost story.
Each spectral sighting among the friends has something in common. The individual that appears to be the departed person, upon closer inspection turns out to be someone else. What’s more, they all seem somehow connected to an ancient relic – the Saint Ignatius of Loyola cross that Jay’s dad, a theology professor, discovered prior to his death. When Noah and the cross simultaneously disappear, the remaining trio has no choice but to pull an epic road trip in search of their friend, the cross, and an ancient diary belonging to the long-dead Catholic saint.
Despite spiritual undertones, Signs of You remains grounded in the real world. There’s the usual teen angst and awkwardness. Riley rides the cruelty of high school on waves of numbness, and she and her father skirt the issue of loss in their home “like two rain clouds trying not to storm.” As scary as the apparitions may be, they fall well short of the horror Riley experiences encountering her father with a new girlfriend. And unrequited love, high school bullies, and embarrassing inebriation are additionally in full cringeworthy attendance.
At the thematic heart of the novel is the Jesuit idea of the “discernment of the spirits,” the notion that spirits, good ones and bad ones, are always present, passing through us, influencing our decisions; the challenge is to discern which ones to pay attention to and which ones to ignore. With its balanced blend of matters both ethereal and earthly wrapped in a quick-paced, ghostly adventure, Signs of You will not be ignored.
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