Old Favorites: Ghosts I Have Been

Did you know that it was one hundred years ago today that the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton, England?  (Of course you did…it’s all over the news!)  When the ship set sail on April 10, 1912, people knew The Titanic was a special ship setting out on a groundbreaking journey, but no one knew that her maiden voyage would still resonate with people and still be news on April 10, 2012.

Last year, we did a Titanic Booklist that seems to be getting many hits this week. Today, we’ll feature an Old Favorite which is on that list: Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck.

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Blossom Culp is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks…quite literally. She and her mother live in a shack by the streetcar tracks.  Blossom’s mother’s business is fortune telling, and Blossom has had to fend for herself since she started school. It’s 1913 and although Blossom has always had a good heart, somehow, she always ends up in trouble.

When Halloween of 1913 comes around, Blossom decides to head off the local bullies she knows will be showing up to bother her and her mother–by disguising herself as a ghost and scaring them away.   She has the perfect costume, a glowing sheet that hides her completely. Unfortunately, her plan to hide in the privy of the old man next door to scare the boys backfires when she discovers that Old Man Leverette is IN his privy. Blossom nearly scares him to death, but when she explains what she was trying to do, he aids her in her crazy scheme, firing buckshot at Les, the biggest bully of the bunch and the other boys. Unfortunately, when Old Man Leverettte caught her she had pretended to be the most stuck-up girl in her class, and when the bullies hear him calling her Letty, they vow revenge on Letty, not Blossom.

It’s only right that Blossom help Letty out, even though she doesn’t like her much. But when Les and Letty get into a fight on the playground and Blossom runs to her defense, both girls end up in the principal’s office (although Les ends up expelled.)  When Letty’s mother buys Letty an entire new wardrobe out of gratitude, Blossom vows to turn over a new leaf and become more of a lady.

But even with her new clothes and new resolve, Blossom can’t help but come up with a new scheme to give her some prestige among the girls who look down on her.  She tells the girls  that she has ESP, that she can see spirits and get messages from them. At first Blossom’s scheme works out…she is getting the respect she thinks she deserves and doing good deeds for the townspeople.

But what she doesn’t count on is her Family Gift coming into effect…Blossom actually does develop Second Sight, and starts having visions. Soon, she has a vision of a little blond boy, abandoned in a first class cabin on the RMS Titanic.

But the Titanic is the safest ship in the world, isn’t it?  When Blossom finds herself transported to the boy’s side again on a now sinking ship, is the boy the ghost, or is Blossom?  Can she change his fate, or is he doomed?  Blossom enlists her friend Alexander to give her a hand. Is Blossom’s Second Sight something that can save the boy, or is she just reliving a nightmare that hasn’t even happened yet?

* * *

Ghosts I Have Been came out in 1977, and followed The Ghost Belonged to Me, which Alexander, Blossom’s friend narrated. Blossom was such a great character in the first book–quirky, full of life and quite independent–that Peck wrote the sequel from her perspective.  It obviously worked! It may have helped that for all her positive points, Blossom is also a troublemaker of epic proportions; even though she’s well-intentioned and heroic, she’s also stubborn and has her faults.  There are two more stories about Blossom and Alexander and their adventures, and both sequelsThe Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp and Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death are told by Blossom.  Her voice is unique and her perspective both hilarious and practical.

In Blossom’s world, the sinking of the Titanic has just happened, so it’s a recent tragedy. People who perished might have been friends or relatives of people who live in town.  Everyone is shocked and saddened by the loss of life.  The chance for Blossom to save one innocent life is one she has to take, even if it might risk her own.

In Ghosts I Have Been, through Blossom’s observations, the time period–1913 and 1914–really  comes to life. That’s something that is strong in all of Richard Peck’s writing. After the Blossom books, he went on to write A Long Way from Chicago, a Newbery Honor book, and A Year Down Yonder, which won the Newbery Award in 2001.

Ghosts I Have Been is a fun book to read, even though it deals with a serious subject. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about life at the beginning of the twentieth century, and to anyone who wants to read a book about The Titanic.  Blossom’s language is colorful and of it’s time, so it might be a little harder for very young readers.  Fifth through eighth grade readers would enjoy this historical novel of a great tragedy.  It could be read aloud with a class or shared with a parent/child book club as an excellent example of a solid and fun historical novel.

So try Ghosts I Have Been (or The Ghost Belonged To Me) today, and see what you think!



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