Monday, November 16, 2020

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella


Reviewed by Kristin

Cady Archer arrives at Harvard with mild trepidation, but optimistic that the prestigious university is where she is supposed to be. Her mother definitely disagrees, having lost Cady’s older brother Eric to suicide on the revered campus just a year earlier. Eric had a history of mental illness threaded through his brilliance, and something just pushed him over the edge, perhaps literally as well as figuratively.

As Cady deals with the pressure of being a freshman at such a challenging university, she struggles with the idea that she could have done something to help Eric. Surely there were clues pointing to his desperation, or other indications that his family should have noticed. As she begins to cross paths with his classmates, his competitors for the Bauer award, and his professors, Cady begins to question whether something much more sinister than stress or schizophrenia drove her brother to take his own life.

Cue the “ghosts of Harvard” as Cady begins to hear voices in her head. Decades or centuries have passed since Whit, Robert, and Bilhah walked the paths now occupied by Cady and her fellow students. But Cady can hear them as clearly as if they were beside her in the present day. They become as real to her as the living, breathing humans around her, but are they really speaking to her from the past or is Cady slipping into mental illness just like Eric?

This highly anticipated debut novel from Francesca Serritella did meet my expectations. I have read Serritella’s non-fiction compilations with her mother Lisa Scottoline and found them funny, insightful, and a bit poignant as they cover topics of family, growing up Italian, men, friendship, and animals, among many, many other things. This work of fiction definitely did feel like a first as the author found her narrative voice, but she accomplished this well. As a graduate of Harvard, she obviously knows her setting well and utilizes her experiences there to paint the background vividly.

I will admit that this took me some time to read, but I blame that more on the COVID-19 pandemic and my own scattered-ness in 2020, rather than on any faults with the writing. I look forward to more from this promising young author in the future.

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