The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills is not your typical ghost story. Shelly, the 11-year-old protagonist, comes from a long line of Cree women, including her mother and grandmother, who have the gift of being able to see and communicate with ghosts. As a young apprentice, Shelly is learning the proper procedures for respectfully responding to ghosts.
Friends, neighbours and even the police seek their services to rid houses of unwanted supernatural guests, remove spirits from objects or locate missing people who are feared dead. Whether it be ghost animals or people, Shelly and her grandmother try to help all the spirits who are stuck in this world and need help navigating to the next.
Shelly feels like she connects better with the dead than she does with the living and has a hard time fitting in at school. It doesn’t help that no one takes her gift seriously. Her mother, who has the gift but doesn’t use it, is concerned about the amount of time Shelly is spending with ghosts and the effect it may be having on her well-being. Her mother intervenes, putting a stop to it, which creates tension within the family.
When tragedy strikes and Shelly’s mother is killed in an accident, a grief-stricken Shelly seeks comfort in the company of ghosts and starts sneaking them into her bedroom in hopes that one might lead her to her mother. Shelly’s grandmother is too preoccupied as she struggles to make ends meet to notice that Shelly is breaking all the rules she taught her.
In a CBC interview, Allison Mills (Ililiw/ Cree and settler) mentioned that this novel is inspired by family stories she heard about her great-grandmother who was called on by the RCMP to help them investigate missing person cases.
The Ghost Collector is an enjoyable, moving read, excellent for independent reading or literature circles in junior grades. The book examines the ghosts you see and the ones that you don’t. Sometimes, when navigating grief, there are no rules and, like Shelly, you have to make up your own to survive.
Anna Armstrong is a member of the Upper Grand Teacher Local.