Author Ripley Patton’s debut novel, Ghost Hand, is the first installment of the PSS Chronicles, which captured me from the first page and was very hard to put down, even briefly. A fast-paced young adult paranormal thriller, it managed to pack together tense moments, action packed sequences, the sweet beginnings of a romance, and an exploration of the important social issue of accepting differences. The wry humour sprinkled throughout the book was just the cherry on top.
PSS stands for “Psyche Sans Soma”, which can be described as the psychic presence of an otherwise missing body part. In lieu of a hand made out of flesh and bone, seventeen-year old Olivia Black was born with a hand made of luminous, delicate, yet strong filaments of blue energy. I would think that such an appendage would be something worth celebrating. Just think of the applications! Need a flashlight? No worries, Olivia can just take off her glove and voilà! Dropped something in the fire? No worries, she can pick it right out of there!
Quite unfortunately however, differences are not always a cause for celebration. In the case of PSS, this fear seems to have led to the formation of a shady organization known as “Citizens Against Minus Flesh”, or CAMF, which wreaks havoc on Olivia’s life and turns her from being a (mostly) normal high school student into a fugitive.
As if having a ghost hand wasn’t trouble enough, Olivia soon discovers it gives her another ability: she can reach inside someone with it and take things out of them. Thankfully, the charismatic and mysterious Marcus enters her life in a very timely manner, and introduces her to a group of teenage runaways that can help her get away from CAMF’s nefarious schemes.
Teenagers are a lot stronger and smarter than they are given credit for, and, most importantly, a lot more self-reliant. One of the reasons I liked this book is that these qualities shine brightly in this group of teenagers led by Marcus. I also like that Olivia makes for a strong female lead. The loss of her father to cancer and the absence of a psychologist mother more intent on diagnosing her daughter than grieving the husband she lost have clearly made their mark on her, yet she still balances out understandable confusion and hesitation with inner strength and poise.
I very much liked that the author never went on a three page long scientific essay explaining PSS, but rather, the syndrome was a known, accepted fact, the details of which we discovered in bits and pieces. This helps create certain empathy for Olivia when her familiar hand is acting in very strange ways.
I see great potential for Ghost Hand to be book club material, as the topic of “the other” delineated in this book by superficial differences, such as a PSS hand, would resonate very well with teenagers struggling to fit in. While the author never adopts an authoritative or preaching voice, the message about accepting differences and the terrible consequences of prejudice and discrimination shone through this book, and I look forward to how this exploration of such an important topic continues in the second and third book of the series.
Amongst the sea of self-published books out there are gems. I feel lucky that, out of the last two self-published books I have read, both of them turned out to be amazing. Just like Sieni A.M.’s Illumine Her, Ghost Hand was clearly written by someone who has poured time, energy and resources into their book. Both authors clearly want to contribute quality material to a YA audience that very much needs it to help them navigate through these sensitive years. In Ripley Patton’s case, she made sure she had the resources available through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. I am sure that every single one of her investors are certain that their funding was very well spent!