Lily's Ghosts

Lily's Ghosts
by Laura Ruby

Publishing Information: HarperCollins: New York, 2003
ISBN: 0060518294/0060518316 (PB)
Pages: 272 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

Lily is Furious.

She can't believe she has to move again after her mom's break-up with the latest boyfriend. Now they're broke and they'll have to spend the winter in Uncle Wes's creepy summerhouse in Cape May, New Jersey.

And the place is crawling with ghosts.

From the spiteful teenager who mistakes Lily for her high school nemesis to the restless spirit of her eccentric Uncle Max, Lily is haunted by a host of unhappy phantoms. But why are they here? And what do they want?

With the help of some mysterious clues, Lily and her new friend, local boy Vaz, uncover a sinister plot. If they don't foil the villainous plan in time, they may end up doing some eternal haunting of their own.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Death and Dying
Dysfunctional Families
Family relationships
Problem parents

Awards & Reviews:
Parents' Choice Award-Children (Silver), 2003
Parents' Choice Award-Young Adults (Silver), 2003

From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-A cast of eccentric characters plays out this intriguing story, which opens with an enticing description of Cape May, NJ, and the hint that ghosts might be hovering about. Lily, 13, and her mother have just moved to this shore community after her mother's breakup with her latest boyfriend. They take up residence in the old Victorian home owned by her mom's Uncle Wes, a relative with whom they have had little contact. Lily is so horrified by a portrait of her other great uncle, a pale, frightening-looking young man, that she hides it in the closet. Very soon, inexplicable things begin to happen: strange phone calls, objects changing location, jam in her shoes. Before long, Lily realizes that she is being haunted, and she resolves to solve a mystery from the past that involves her uncle's house and several of her relatives. The story shifts back and forth between her reality and a parallel world inhabited by ghosts, giving the book multiple dimensions and keeping readers guessing. A likable character, Lily is curious and courageous in her attempts to get to the bottom of things. A friendship develops between her and a local boy who helps her in her quest for the truth. Readers will be hooked right up to the surprising ending. A good pick for fans of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Bernie and the Bessledorf Ghost (Atheneum, 1990).
Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"A fast-paced, comic tale."

Detroit Free Press
"Sure to delight the reader ... will tickle readers' funny bones."

Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Satisfying. A good bet for girls ages 10 through 14."

Chicago Sun-Times
"A spirited novel.. Readers will fly through the pages."

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Lily is often left to take care of herself. Would you enjoy having this much freedom as a teenager? Why or why not?
  2. The family in the story is torn apart about a "treasure." In real life, do you think greed can have such a devastating impact on people? Have you ever been motivated by greed?
  3. Sibling rivalry is a theme of the story. Do you think the conflict between the brothers (Lily's uncles) was realistic? Have you ever encountered sibling rivalry? Can you think of any actions the adults in the story might have taken to lessen the competition between the brothers?
  4. Do you believe in ghosts? Do you agree with Laura Ruby's perceptions on how a ghost might look or act?
  5. In the story, Lily's cat Julep seems to sense the "ghosts" right from the beginning of the story. Do you believe animals are more sensitive to the paranormal than people?
  6. Did you notice any "stereotypical" characters in the story? (Some examples might include the flighty-artist Mom, or the overly-severe Librarian) Do you enjoy reading stories with stereotypical characters? Do these types of characters make the story more or less believable?
  7. Did you notice the way different types of text were used in the layout of the book? What did the different types of text signify? Can you think of any other novels you have read which also use various types of text styles?

Related Websites:
More about the author is available at
Follow these links to read interviews with Laura Ruby:  

Write own Ghost stories and use the "Ghost Checklist" in this site for self assessment/reflection. Lesson plan available at:

Ghosts and Fear in Language Arts: Lesson Plan at:

Make up clues for several groups. The clue for each group led to another clue somewhere in the library. When the students found the second clue, it led them to a mystery book on the shelf. They pulled it and sit down until everyone has finished. Read the titles of all the books found and ask what these books have in common. Show students a poster with criteria for a good mystery book:

  • Characters are well developed.
  • Reader can solve mystery along with main character because all clues are given
  • Plot engages the reader and propels the reader on through the book.
  • The mystery is solved at end of the book.

Vinton Studios will make a movie of Laura Ruby's next book, The Wing and the Wall (due out in 2006) -

TAPS: The Atlantic Paranormal Society ( The Atlantic paranormal Society is the organization of Rhode Island ghost hunters, as seen on "Ghost Hunters" on the SciFi Network.

Young Adult
Hey Dad, Get a Life by Todd Strasser,1996
House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, 1984
How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson, 2002 (2004 RITBA Nominee)
The Last Treasure by Janet Anderson, 2003
Skellig by David Almond, 1999
Stonewords: A Ghost Story by Pam Conrad, 1990
A Stranger Here by Thelma Hatch Wyss, 1993
Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson, 2001 (2002 RITBA Nominee)

The Bernie and the Besseldorf Ghost by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, 1990
The Ghost Cadet by Elaine Marie Alphin, 1991
The Ghost Sitter by Peni R. Griffin, 2001
The Haunting of SafeKeep by Eve Bunting, 1985  
House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, 1984
There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around by Vivian Vande Velde, 1999

About the Author:
Laura Ruby lives in Chicago with her husband, two stepdaughters, and two cats. She cannot be sure how many ghosts live with them.   

Originally from the East Coast, Laura Ruby now lives in Chicago. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Other Voices, The Florida Review, Literal Latte, Sycamore Review and Nimrod. Currently, she is working on several projects, including a sequel to LILY'S GHOSTS.

A Letter from the Author:
Dear Reader:

I'm supposed to tell you about my novel, Lily's Ghosts: how funny, how scary, how very extraordinary it is. And I will. But first I'm going to tell you about my friend Andrea's house.

When I was in college, I spent many weekends at Andrea's shore house in Cape May, NJ. The house is a beautiful Victoria with an absurd number of rooms, lots of fancy furniture, and at least one ghost. At Andrea's, the phones rang over and over, workmen hired to paint or repair things would refuse to return on account of all the crazy noises and the cold spots, and Andrea's brothers complained that they'd heard someone running pell-mell through the hallways when no one else was there. They'd even found a set of footprints in the dust on the stairs to the attic - footprints that went up, but didn't come down.

Every time I stayed with Andrea's family, I harbored a secret wish that something funny and creepy and fabulous might happen to me. (Sadly, though, nothing ever did.)

Years later, while on vacation at the Jersey shore, I thought about the ghost stories I loved as a child and decided to write one. Not just any old ghost story, however, but a ghost story that was kind of funny but also kind of scary and mysterious and sad, and possibly one with a little romance. And then I remembered Andrea's house. Thus, Lily's Ghosts was born.

It is the story of thirteen-year-old Lily Crabtree, furious to find herself forced to move again after her mother's break up with her latest loser boyfriend. Stuck at her Uncle Wes's musty Victorian in Cape May for the winter, Lily soon discovers that there's something truly odd about the little shore town ... a place where dolls walk about by themselves, the living can't be trusted, and the dead can't remember and can't forget.

In short, this is a book about ghosts. The "boo" kind, of course, but also the real kind that haunt us - memories of those we've loved and lost, our hurts and our fears, what we've left unsaid. It is funny and creepy and fabulous things that can happen to thirteen-year-old girls when they face their fears, finally meet a boy with some potential, and find a place to call home. It is as close as I could get to the book I wanted to write, and it is exactly the kind of book I would have wanted to read.

I hope you enjoy it.

Laura Ruby