13-year-old Billy lives with his mum and her boyfriend, Jeff, who is controlling and aggressive. Just before Halloween, Jeff picks yet another fight with Grace. Billy has finally had enough and seeks refuge in a graveyard, where he hopes to remain unnoticed long enough to sort things out.
But disappearing isn’t easy, and people are getting worried. When Izzie from Billy’s maths class finds him she has a difficult decision to make, and the old man clearing the graveyard turns out to have an even more important role to play. All Soul’s Night is approaching. Will the ghostly reunions spur change in Billy’s world? And who will help Grace find the necessary courage?
Atmospheric greyscale illustrations on every page of Billy’s story extend our understanding and deepen the emotional impact of the text. Ivy twines around bare branches, light plays across gravestones and we smell damp soil beneath our feet. It may be dark, but we read these characters in the tilt of a head or the placing of a hand, and we care. The emotional arc of the story is well paced and judged, and when the ghosts emerge from their graves in a wordless sequence of reunions, we are deeply moved but not surprised.
Alongside the story of Billy’s disappearance is an account of the ensuing search. These chapters are written in a different style and voice, and are text-only. In both stories, change is brought about by asking for (and accepting) help, and although challenging themes are addressed (domestic abuse, coercive control, consent) the framing of Billy’s real-world experiences within an illustrated ghost-story enables complex ideas and emotions to be explored in a sensitive and age-appropriate way.