How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle is the story of a young Choctaw boy whose family is forced to move from their home and the trials and struggles he experiences on this journey. How I Became a Ghost is the winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Middle School Book as well as a Spur Award Nominee for Best Western Juvenile Fiction and the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award Nominee.
Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, HOW I BECAME A GHOST is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the book’s opening line, “Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before,” the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac s talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, HOW I BECAME A GHOST thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history.
I think this book perfectly captures the life and thoughts of a young boy. Isaac is young, but wise for his years because he experiences visions of the future and speaks with ghosts. I really like how Tingle presented this story, with Isaac knowing he will become a ghost soon, yet continuing to face each new day. There is great courage and strength shown through Isaac’s decisions to look after not just his family, but other children. The story shows how even young people can make difficult decisions and take on obstacles and burdens not felt by their parents.
I also liked how this story provides children with a view into the Trail of Tears as experienced by a child. I think this makes the story much more accessible and really opens the reader’s eyes to how horrifying the realities of this country’s past can be. Tingle does not shy away from anything, depicting death, sickness, violence from nature as well as from people. I’ve always been a big supporter of not shielding children from the realities of the world. Children are often stronger than we imagine them to be.
I learned a lot while reading this book, and I particularly enjoyed learning some of the Choctaw customs and how, even among other Choctaws, there is still so much to learn from one another. Isaac learns from his parent wisdom, from the resilience of the Council Members, and from a boy his own age. It was really interesting to read and I am forever glad I picked this book up.
Literary Value: 3/5
The writing is very simple and straightforward in this book, which is not a bad thing, since the intended audience is for kids. As an adult, it was a bit tedious, but I was still able to get immersed in the story.
I think the plot pacing is definitely a strength of this book. Every chapter brings something new and the story moves along at a good pace, which I think will keep any child’s interest. There are lots of cool elements to this story, like Isaac being able to see the near future and his friend being able to turn into a panther. All of these elements added nuance to the story and would renew my interest with each chapter.
Entertainment Factor: 3/5
I didn’t know what to expect from this book going into it. I knew it would probably be a mixture of adventure and drama – I was prepared to be sad/horrified by the injustices against the Choctaw people. I know the Trail of Tears is an example of the horrors that white settlers have enacted against the indigenous people of this land. But I appreciate what Tingle has done with this book to make that story accessible to youth. Reading it, I was sad, but I also experienced hope and joy alongside Isaac as he protects and cares for his family and his people.
There were high-action moments in this story that kept me turning the page. While the language was simple and not challenging to me, I understand it’s purpose as this book is intended for a young audience. I think any child reading this book will be engaged in the story, not the language. I think this book will definitely keep young readers turning the pages.
Cover Art: 4/5
I really like this cover! It’s really dynamic and it catches the eye right away. The red is really vivid and the image of the panther makes you stop and wonder what this book is about, especially when the title mentions a ghost. While there isn’t a whole lot going on on the cover that hints at the nature of the story, I kind of like the mysteriousness of it and I think that its simplicity works in its favor. Overall, I think it’s just really cool looking and I would certainly pick it up if I saw it in the store.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Panthers
Despite being about a tragic moment in history (the Trail of Tears), Tingle manages to capture hope and courage in this story of a young boy who knows he will be a ghost soon. I loved getting to know Isaac and seeing the world through is eyes. Not only did I learn about Choctaw culture through him, but I also was taken on a roller coaster of a ride. There is magic, there is a rescue mission, and there is familial love and solidarity among people on full display. I really didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would highly recommend it to kids looking for an adventurous story.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading my review! I hope I’ve helped aid you in your decision to read this book. If you have read it or if you’re thinking about reading it, let me know what you thought in the comments! And as always, happy reading!