Edward Gordon's Reviews > The Death of Torberta Turchin

The Death of Torberta Turchin by Shannon Mawhiney
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Aug 23, 11

Read in March, 2011

"The Death of Torberta Turchin" by Shannon Mawhiney: A Review

Shannon Mawhiney's debut novel is a young adult ghost story you don't want to miss. If you liked "The Dead Father's Club," by Matt Haig or movies like "Ghost," "The Sixth Sense," "The Others," or "Ghost Town," you're going to love “The Death of Torberta Turchin.”

This masterfully written novel is about a fourteen-year-old girl, Torberta Turchin, who for nine years has lived in a boarding school for the mentally ill. Her distant relatives (the aunt and uncle of her cousin) put her there after she survived an auto accident in which she witnessed the brutal death of her parents. Following that trauma, not only had she become withdrawn and uncommunicative, but when she did speak, it was only to ghostly voices that no one else could hear.

Even Torberta (Torby, as she's known to her friends) is unsure if the ghosts are in her head or in her room, so in an attempt to be accepted by her adoptive family, she makes a concerted effort to ignore them, especially (and most painfully) the voice of her ghostly best friend, Charlie.

Of course that effort falls apart the day a boy named Cody comes to the school and can see the very ghosts that Torby is trying to ignore. It seems nothing ruins a good hallucination like someone else experiencing it, too. Unfortunately, that also means the ghostly presence that wants Torby dead is alive and well and will stop at nothing to affect her demise.

Few authors in modern gothic literature go out of their way to develop characters we can truly care about, but we do end up caring about Mawhiney's Torberta. In Torby's struggle to understand why she can't hear her own parents when she can hear so many other ghosts, we come to sympathize with her loneliness and isolation, especially in a world that doesn't seem to want her and over which she has little control.

As such, the story takes the shape of an allegory for an all too common tale in the lives of many real children—that is the story of abandonment. Those who live in state custody, or those who live in special institutions know it very well. Like Torberta Turchin, they are the forgotten ones.

Ironically, the school is called St. Christopher's, and herein we find the central symbolism of the story. St. Christopher is, after all, a martyr and the patron saint of travelers, and it's Torby's final journey via this school, along with her faith in that which is transcendent, that leads her to the hope of love and acceptance.

It's impossible to read "The Death of Torberta Turchin" and come away unaffected. The powerful theme of childhood abandonment forces us to examine our own issues in this regard. If one has ever been abandon through neglect, emotionally abandoned, actually abandoned, or abandoned through the abuse of those who were supposed to love them, this is a novel that will hit home on a gut level.

Ultimately, the concern we feel for Torby keeps us turning the pages as fast as we can. This is not an easy book to set down once you pick it up. As for me, I found it difficult to stay critically focused for this review; I kept being drawn into the story and away from my task at hand.

"The Death of Torberta Turchin" is not to be missed by fans of well-written ghost stories. I hope someone goes to work on the screenplay soon, because this would make a fantastic movie or a Broadway play. Fortunately, the novel is available now on Kindle, and the author assures me it will be available in print very soon. I've bought it on Kindle, and I'll buy it again in its print edition to keep on my bookshelf.
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