The most important thing about Annabel McCormack is that she is dead. She died at the age of 17, the reader learns, from anorexia. But now she is receiving instructions from a female known as the Boss, who while quite definitely not god has certain godlike powers. Her powers include assigning an earthly mission to Annabel.
If Annabel performs her task satisfactorily she will be permitted to send a message from the other side to her family, her mother, her father and her younger sister Imogen. Her task is to look after a living girl named Julia Jacobs, known to Annabel when both were alive.
Julia is in many ways a model teenager. Her ambition is to be a journalist. She works hard and secures good academic results. She is the editor of the school journal, gaining valuable experience for her desired career. But she has a flaw. She is greedy and overweight. There is a reason, not yet divulged to the reader, why Julia indulges in comfort eating. But Julia’s weight problem comes to be an obstacle to her would-be ghostly protector. When Annabel looks at Julia she wonders how she is meant to protect someone damaging her own health and appearance.
This is not the first book to depict a young person leading a postmortal life among living people. But it is a difficult situation to stage convincingly. Such scenes often seem contrived for effect rather than a feature of natural story-telling. From the start Hennessy makes the situation seem normal. Of course we have ghostly protectors. Who could doubt that?
There is an obvious gulf between the two girls at the centre of this book. Food matters hugely. Annabel was killed by her inability to adopt a measured sensible attitude to food. To Annabel, Julia is making herself seem weak-willed and stupid by her enslavement to food. The sheer genius of Hennessy’s book is that she enters with total confidence and conviction into the minds of these two diametrically opposed characters, a rare accomplishment indeed.
Arguments in favour of moderation and prudence as opposed to excess and rashness too easily verge on preaching. Hennessy’s triumph is that she personifies these elements in two utterly credible and utterly self-aware fictional characters. This book will make an ideal and uplifting gift for any girl’s 14th birthday.