Young adult fiction is always looking for the “next big thing.” Whether it’s vampires inspired by Twilight, or Hunger Games-style dystopian novels, teen readers often seem to take to specific genres in flocks. At times, this can make the shelves in bookstores look strangely identical, with dark fonts splashed across covers or anonymous hands holding flowers. Liv, Forever, screenwriter and director Amy Talkington’s debut tale of the supernatural, falls into some of these familiar tropes: ghosts and novels set in boarding schools are not necessarily new territory. But at its heart, Talkington’s novel isn’t just a ghost story; it’s a mystery. And right now mystery seems perfectly poised to be that “next big thing” in young adult literature.
Liv, Forever (Soho Teen, March) follows the plight of Liv Bloom, an artistic teen girl who bounced around foster care before finding herself at Wickham Hall, a boarding school set deep in the woods of New Hampshire. Wickham Hall is home to the elite and the snobbish, and as a scholarship kid, Liv immediately finds herself on the outside. But then along comes Malcolm, one of the wealthy and accepted who instantly falls for Liv. The two have a fast love affair, cut short by Liv’s untimely demise.
But the novel doesn’t stop with Liv’s death. With the help of Gabe—another outsider who can communicate with ghosts—Liv and Malcolm set out to solve her murder. The investigation takes them on a winding path through Wickham Hall’s hallowed grounds, where they commune with other ghosts and ultimately piece together a very dark history.
The novel’s gothic feel is what sets is apart from other boarding school stories, in addition of course, to the mystery at its heart. In death, Liv takes on the role of investigator, of sleuth. This mystery has very large implications for her, and that only serves to heighten the emotional weight. It matters to us that Liv finds her killer, simply because it matters so much to her.
Mystery in young adult literature is not necessarily a new genre; Nancy Drew was solving crimes way before YA became the booming industry that it is today. But while mystery is often an element in modern YA novels, rarely is it the focus. Take a novel like Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, where a boy finds a series of cassette tapes explaining why one of his classmates killed herself. Is there mystery? Of course—we’re wondering why she did it and the answers are spread out over the entire novel. But is it a mystery novel? Not necessarily.
And on the surface, neither is Liv, Forever. This is a ghost story, a love story, and a tragedy. But think of the tropes that often go along with mystery novels—there’s a killer on the loose, someone dies, and there are consequences if they are not caught. This is also Liv’s story. She’s killed, her killer is roaming the same halls as her, and if they are not caught then there will be dire consequences both for her friends and for the fate of her spirit.
Liv, Forever is in good company with this growing genre. James Patterson’s much-hyped Confessions series, and Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You, are just two more examples of modern young adult mysteries. Can – and will – this genre grow as big as vampires or dystopia? We’ll have to wait and see.
But in the meantime, Liv, Forever is a suspenseful, unique novel that will appeal to lovers of ghost stories and mysteries alike.