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The Other Ones – Book Review
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The Other Ones – Book Review

Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“That was when he heard them. The ghostly voices. For months, they had sounded in the dead of night. Though the words were muffled, he knew they were spiked with hatred; cold, bitter echoes of the past.”

This book is the perfect YA read for this time of year! Get ready for a beautifully wholesome story of first love, family and friendships between a bunch of self-proclaimed misfits, all tied together with a light ghostly twist. So thrilled to be sharing my review for Fran Hart’s brilliant debut! 🎃

About the book

Sal lives in a haunted house.

He longs to be ordinary, but when the strangest of strangers arrives on his doorstep – a fellow outcast called Pax – his life grows even more complicated.

Sal goes on to develop an unlikely friendship with Pax, whose love for all things spooky drew him to the house and its inhabitants. But as the two grow closer, the true nature of the hauntings is gradually revealed.

Will Sal find the courage to conquer his ghosts, or will he risk losing Pax for good?

The beginning

Oh my goodness, this book was super cute. Where do I even begin?! The first chapter is the perfect opening; it gives us so much information, introducing us to such memorable characters and setting the scene perfectly. I loved the author’s tone right from the off – perfect for the age range and with a hint of humour that complements it so well. Sal lives with his sister, Asha, (and their mum when she’s not out working…) and there’s something quite unusual about their lives; they live in a haunted house. Everyone in the area knows all about it and stay well away, but when neighbourhood newbie Pax comes knocking one day, seemingly curious about the house, Sal is in shock. And he doesn’t yet know just how much his life is about to change… I loved Pax as soon as he was introduced; such a care free, somewhat eccentric kind of guy with style! I couldn’t wait to see how the relationship between the two changed and what they experience together. I had such high hopes straight away with that opening!

The author continued to wow me with such vivid and colourful description of people and places, making everything so easy to visualise. It simply got even better as we finally witness some of the house’s spooky goings on, the ghostly voices that keep Sal up at night. I felt the spooky vibes were quite tame up to now though, and I really hoped this would develop further the more I read. The way the author has written about Sal’s school life and his (very) small amount of friends reminded me so much of my own school days, and in a way, I saw a bit of myself in this character. It made it so easy to grow attached to him and to understand him, especially knowing how he keeps himself to himself. The slow-burn of Sal getting to know Pax was paced to perfection, and I enjoyed seeing this relationship grow and blossom, and also seeing Sal become more curious about who Pax is underneath that strange ‘loner’ exterior. It was so heartwarming to read!

“He blinked owlishly at Sal, who stood in silence, arms folded, unsure how to react to this boy who dressed like a woodland animal and spoke like a grandmother.”

Learning more about Sal’s late father allows us to get a little bit closer to this character. The way Sal is certain he can hear his father’s voice and laughter, and that he even thinks he can smell his familiar smells makes us realise that he’s still grieving, still going through that healing process. This is reflected so well in his personality. It’s something so heartbreaking to read, but it’s also quite nice in a way that he’s being remembered. The author really knows how to word these scenes to tug on our heartstrings a little and make us curious! Scenes of Sal and Pax spending time with one another was always a delight to experience, their early friendship perfectly penned with so much potential. I’m really glad this relationship is a big and important part of the story as it works so well. I already thought the author had created all her characters flawlessly; they’re so full of life, personality and wit, and I just loved everyone we met along the way. More please!

Sal’s friends, Dirk and Elsie, finally meet Pax properly and get acquainted, and when they do so, something just clicked. Something began to feel right between the four, like they could take over the world if they wanted to! The banter, the conversation, the fact that they even called themselves a bunch of misfits and outcasts made me love the group more and more as time passed, and I knew it was nearly time for them to experience something together, an unforgettable journey that would stay with them for a lifetime. But what would Sal’s spooky house have to do with it? Speaking of spooky house, Sal begins to experience those ghostly noises every single night now. I couldn’t even imagine the distress, the terror I’d feel if that was my house! I could sense that this ghostly presence, whatever or whoever it was, would make itself known to the rest of the group soon enough. What secrets did Sal’s house conceal? What were we about to discover? A great start to the book and I just wanted to get to the really good stuff!

The middle

Reading this book towards the middle of October was the absolute perfect time! Autumnal descriptions full of pumpkins and Halloween celebrations were just the ticket as the nights began to get colder and darker, and it soon became the perfect cosy read from under a blanket. This feeling just multiplied when the group begin to prepare for Dirk’s Halloween party, not that Sal was up for it really, at first. However, it turned out to be an eventful time, and we finally see Sal loosen up around Pax. A spark, a something seems to change things between them, which also gets Asha feeling a little curious herself. I loved reading about characters which just felt like real-life teenagers with real-life issues and experiencing love and relationships for the first time. It really was quite refreshing. I liked where things were heading in the book, and I loved pretty much every piece of humourous dialogue between all the characters, Sal and Asha in particular, their sibling relationship so relatable in so many ways.

There were a few things I picked up on about Sal and Asha’s family life at this point that may or not be important later. I’d already predicted what I thought the big reveal could be but I was still open to seeing how the adventure developed and still super intrigued about what Sal and his friends would experience together! The author balanced the intense, joyful feelings of new love, complex family relationships and experiences, and the spooky goings on in a haunted house pretty well; it felt effortlessly written, yet it was such an intricate mix of stories and events that had me hanging onto every word. Writing feelings and emotions seemed to be one of the author’s many strong points, and it was all just a joy to experience. The book approaches homosexuality in such a refreshing and normal way which it absolutely should be and is something we need more of. I think Sal and Pax have to be my favourite pair in the YA books I’ve read so far; there was something so loveable about them, how they seemed so different but also similar in many ways, something hard to describe but something that just works.

“I used to be normal before I met you,” he told Pax.

Pax just laughed. “There’s no such thing.”

At this point, I had a good think about what I’d already read and exactly what the book was teaching us or expressing. The more I thought, the more I loved! I felt a big part of this book was emphasising that you should always do what makes you happy, no matter what anyone else thinks. To accept everyone for who they truly are. To laugh like there’s no tomorrow with the people who make you happiest. And with Sal, Pax, Dirk and Elsie, I felt all this so strongly – it was truly excellent! However, I was still yet to become fully gripped in the ghostly feel of the haunted house. What we already know was written to perfection, but I felt like at times, it was forgotten about as we become so involved in Sal and Pax’s lives and relationship. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I needed more spook! Saying this, the feel of the book began to change and it felt like Sal was close to telling Pax more about the house and its ghostly presence, some of which the reader hasn’t even been told… it was exciting and piqued my curiosity!

We finally get a twist, a twist which causes friction between characters and one which triggered anger and upset within Sal. It was a shock, despite me kind of having an idea what it involved earlier on. However, it was much better than my original prediction and written wonderfully, as expected! Would Sal ever find forgiveness in his heart? Would he ever be able to let things go? As well as all these emotions flying all over the place, it made me see Sal in a whole different way. What he’s been through and how he copes just making this character even more solid, even more real. It isn’t just Sal who we see a different side to either; Pax also changes, his aura not as care-free as it once was. I suppose every couple has their ups and downs, and even through the seriousness of what was happening, I knew things would fix themselves, that the boys were stronger than their problems. I couldn’t wait to see how the author ended things, what would happen to the house and just if, after everything, life would go back to normal.

The end

The author writes about family issues with ease and I was completely blown away with just how she made me feel for Sal and Asha. I teared up a little reading the truth about their lives and their story, how complex it was and how they had adapted to look after themselves and each other. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, but again, it’s been balanced so well. Sal’s feelings of isolation and anger were passed onto the reader with ease; we can feel what he’s feeling and it amazes me how real an author can make their characters, just how much they can bring them to life through words. I also loved how Elsie steps up to be the voice of reason, the friend everyone needs when going through some sort of crisis. I loved her so much and wanted her to appear in my own world to talk to me about my problems! Consistently brilliant characters and a great direction for the author to take. How could Sal fix things from here?

We’re thrown back in time to a crucial moment for Sal and Asha, and it helped set things right in my mind, shocked at the actions of some characters and surprised at the outcome. But thanks to this one little chapter, we really understand everything in the present and why certain characters have the mindset and personalities that they do. I loved how the author has written this big change in their lives and it was such a standout part of the book for me. If all that doesn’t make you emotional, what comes next certainly will! It’s hard not to give spoilers, but all I’ll say is that you might need to get out the tissues. There are so many unexpected events, surprises that were so welcomed after everything Sal had been through, and it all fit the plot perfectly. The importance of friendship and family is so loud here too, something which made it even better, even more memorable. And the cliff hangers speak for themselves!

“Sal looked down at the boy in his arms, and let everything else fade into blissful non-existence, until he was unaware of everyone else around them, and the ceiling about their heads, and the floor beneath their feet.”

As we reached the closing chapters, there’s worry, but also relief. Not just for the characters, but for me too! I’m still a bit taken aback by how differently things played out compared to what my original thoughts were about the book, but I wasn’t complaining. It actually made me think about so much in life and what is important. I loved how all the characters I’d grown to love came together to be with one another when they needed it the most, whether that was being a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. It really was written beautifully. There was a certain scene where Sal and Asha briefly spoke about their childhood and playing make-believe, looking at old photos, having fun without a care in the world. The smile on my face was huge as I thought about my own childhood and how close I was (and still am) with my own sister. Sal and Asha aren’t perfect, but what they had in their brother/sister relationship was so special.

I usually like an ending that leaves a little to the imagination, but I also like an ending (if done well) that leaves no room for a sequel and one that just ends on a high note, and the latter is what we experience here. It was superb. Part of it reminded me of The Snow Ball dance in Stranger Things; for anyone who loved that, you will LOVE this! I loved how the book went from a slight spooky, Halloween-y feel to a festive, Christmassy one, and in my eyes, it was the perfect ending. There’s even a little humourous surprise, a direction the characters and I certainly didn’t expect! As I read the final sentences, I felt genuinely sad the book had ended, but so thankful for such a wonderfully moving story, thankful that the author had introduced us to characters like Sal and Pax, and so thankful that she teaches the reader what is important. A brilliant read for this time of year, one that I’ll definitely be recommending!

Overall thoughts

The Other Ones is a delightful and refreshing YA book filled with strikingly beautiful description, a moving plot and such exceptionally loveable characters with heart. Despite not having the spook I expected, the ghostly feel and the reasoning behind it was really well executed, and the mystery still grabbed me until those final pages. The LGBTQ+ representation was simply sublime, and Sal and Pax are my new favourite couple. Honestly, how can anyone not like Pax?! Magical, humourous in all the right places and truly uplifting. I can’t wait to see what’s next from Fran Hart!

Huge thanks to the author, Fran Hart, and Chicken House Books for my copy of The Other Ones! You can grab your own copy right now on Amazon, available on Kindle and in Paperback. Make sure you’re following the author over on Twitter and Instagram for updates.

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