Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Ghosts of Harvard

Rate this book
A Harvard freshman becomes obsessed with her schizophrenic brother’s suicide. Then she starts hearing voices.

Cadence Archer arrives on Harvard’s campus desperate to understand why her brother, Eric, a genius who developed paranoid schizophrenia took his own life there the year before. Losing Eric has left a black hole in Cady’s life, and while her decision to follow in her brother’s footsteps threatens to break her family apart, she is haunted by questions of what she might have missed. And there’s only one place to find answers.

As Cady struggles under the enormous pressure at Harvard, she investigates her brother’s final year, armed only with a blue notebook of Eric’s cryptic scribblings. She knew he had been struggling with paranoia, delusions, and illusory enemies—but what tipped him over the edge? With her suspicions mounting, Cady herself begins to hear voices, seemingly belonging to three ghosts who walked the university’s hallowed halls—or huddled in its slave quarters. Among them is a person whose name has been buried for centuries, and another whose name mankind will never forget.

Does she share Eric’s illness, or is she tapping into something else? Cady doesn’t know how or why these ghosts are contacting her, but as she is drawn deeper into their worlds, she believes they’re moving her closer to the truth about Eric, even as keeping them secret isolates her further. Will listening to these voices lead her to the one voice she craves—her brother’s—or will she follow them down a path to her own destruction?

480 pages, Hardcover

First published May 5, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Francesca Serritella

14 books689 followers
Francesca Serritella is a bestselling author and columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She graduated cum laude from Harvard University, where she won the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize, the Le Baron Russell Briggs Fiction Prize, and the Charles Edmund Horman Prize for her creative writing. She lives in New York with one dog and one cat, so far.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,541 (22%)
4 stars
2,690 (38%)
3 stars
2,047 (29%)
2 stars
575 (8%)
1 star
139 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,328 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,132 reviews39.3k followers
September 2, 2020
I love the books bring out so many feeling you’ve bottled up inside. I felt fear, grief, sadness and I also get confused, wanted to cry but some parts I really sat on the edge of my couch. The most beautiful thing about the book is realistic, honest but also genuine story-telling.

This is psychological overwhelming, powerful, intense, thought-provoking, riveting reading about a girl’s search for the answers behind the suicide of her brother. The family’s grieving process and enduring the aftermath of losing a child is one of the excruciatingly painful experience. The guilt, the unanswered questions, what ifs, what could be done-s are gnarling inside them. They want to move on but they cannot. They want their pain subside but it never disappears completely.

Cady decides to attend Harvard for her education as like her brother Eric did before he was ending his life. As soon as Cady starts digging up and learning more about from his past, she finds herself at the point of no return. So many twists that we cannot see it coming and surprises are thrown into our laps.

This book is a family’s dealing with a loved one’s death, Cady’s questioning herself about the thin line between madness and reality because she finds herself dealing with illusions, hearing voices, fighting with paranoia and invisible enemies so does she follow the same path with her brother? Will her faith be the same with him? It’s intriguing, isn’t it? This book hooks you from the beginning with its riveting, interesting, mind blowing writing. So do you want to know what will happen next?

You know the drill: grab it, flip the pages and get lost in words!

I enjoyed this reading and thanks to publishing company for putting this amazing author on my radar!
Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House for sharing this incredible ARC with me in exchange my honest review!

Profile Image for jessica.
2,509 reviews31k followers
February 5, 2022
for a debut, this is pretty dang commendable. there was a point where i wondered if the author had bit off more than she could chew, perhaps she was being a little too ambitious, but i was pleasantly surprised that everything came together nicely.

this story tackles a lot of different topics - first year of college experiences, gaining independence, mental health, navigating family relationships, solving mysteries, death and grief, learning history, diving into the paranormal, and conspiracy. like i said, there was a point where i thought it was just too much for one story. but by the end, i was satisfied with how everything tied together, supported each other, and was resolved.

i honestly dont know who i would recommend this to because there is just so much going on. i actually wouldnt even classify this as a mystery/thriller, like GR does. if anything, i feel like this falls under general contemporary fiction? i dunno. so if the synopsis sounds good to you, then i suggest picking it up! lol.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Julie .
4,000 reviews58.9k followers
August 2, 2020
Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella is a 2020 Random House publication.

After her schizophrenic brother, Eric, commits suicide while attending Harvard University, Cady Archer is determined to learn everything she can about his movements leading up to his death. To that end, she too enrolls at Harvard, much to her mother’s dismay.

However, once she arrives on campus and begins investigating Eric’s activities, she too begins to hear voices- voices from the past that tell a shameful story of Harvard’s history. Are they ghosts or is Cady developing symptoms of mental illness like Eric?

Meanwhile, as Cady retraces Eric’s steps, she becomes convinced that her brother may have stumbled across a nefarious plot and may have paid the ultimate price for it- which means she could also be in danger.

This story has many elements and is driven by the strong emotions surrounding a family in deep mourning. There are multiple mysteries and the plot involving Eric and his notebook, which evidently is written in code, is complex at times, and went a little over my head.

The book wants to claim a supernatural suspense label, but this side story fell flat and failed to elicit the desired emotional response from me. In fact, the voices and secondary historical investigation seriously got in the way of the broader story and only served to slow down the momentum. This thread might have been more powerful as a novella tie in or as a follow up to this book.

Unfortunately, with so much going on, the story failed to establish a set identity and the various threads seemed cobbled together instead of seamless.

The story did have some merits, bravely broaching the uncomfortable topics of mental health and suicide, exploring the aftermath, which left a family utterly devastated and broken. However, the novel didn’t impress on the level I had hoped.

Overall, I did want to see this author succeed with her first stand-alone novel. I’m sure it’s a bit intimidating when one’s parent is a successful novelist, which I'm sure is added pressure and readers may set their expectations a bit set higher, as well. I tried not to let that influence me and honestly, I don’t think it did. The author has some writing talent, but maybe tried to accomplish too much, too soon.

3 stars
Profile Image for Kim ~ It’s All About the Thrill.
523 reviews620 followers
February 24, 2020
This is a book that revolves around the suicide of a family member and how the family struggles to cope and understand. The writing is impeccable! The writer spent a great deal of time researching and fine tuning it down to every detail. It was very impressive.

After Eric takes his own life one night in April on the campus of Harvard. His sister Cady decided to follow in his footsteps and attend Harvard. She longs to find answers to the questions she has about her brother's last days.

The story takes an odd turn as Cady starts hearing voices once she gets to Harvard. Yet they are not the voice of her brother but people from the past. People that have lived in these very buildings around her and made up the history of this school. She panics as she realizes that the first sign her brother had were voices in his head. She worries that genetics may be taking her down the same road. Except these voices are telling her things that are historically true. Is the stress of it all triggering the first symptoms of schizophrenia or is she truly having a supernatural experience within the walls of Harvard?

Although I did enjoy the story, it was a very slow burn for me. I knew from the blurb that it would be based on suicide and mental illness but I expected more of that to be part of the story and not the majority of it. There is alot of talk about suicide and it was a bit hard to push through at times. It was beautifully written and a very impressive amount of research was done into the the arts, physics and history of the University. I was hoping for a bit of a ghostly eerie, gothic vibe. I am sure many will really enjoy this story though, it just wasn't for me.

Thank you so much to Random House for this ARC.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,921 reviews35.4k followers
May 9, 2020
Audiobook... narrated by Karissa Vacker

This debut novel was compulsively readable....(not without flaws), but the interwoven mystery, history, suicide, schizophrenia, academia, family background, secrets, grief, college life, and the supernatural, ( guiding voices), was well written and unravels at a pace that kept me hooked until the end.

Outstanding campus descriptions of Harvard!!!!

A very enjoyable complex chiller-thriller!!!

If there was ever a book that should be made into a movie...this is it!
August 27, 2021
| | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | |

“It’s supposed to be a time when you’re about to embark on your adult life, but for many young people, that springboard looks more like a precipice.”

Ghosts of Harvard is a patchwork of a novel. While the summary seems to promise more of thriller/academia type of book (I personally would not recommend this to those who enjoy campus novels or dark academia), what we do get is a mishmash of genres and storylines: to start with we have a moving family drama that examines the realities of caring for someone with a mental illness, then we head into the supernatural combined with the type of amateur investigation that is all the rage in domestic thrillers (someone you know has done something bad), before culminating in a melodramatic final act.

Francesca Serritella strikingly renders the setting of Harvard. Sadly however her protagonist's investigation into her brother's time there takes the centre-stage, so that Cadence's studies and interactions with other students receive limited attention only. Nevertheless Serritella certainly knows Harvard, and she demonstrates her knowledge of its history, architecture, and traditions in a very compelling and evocative way.
After her brother's suicide Cadence is obviously overwhelmed. Eric was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while studying at Harvard so Cadence does feel to a certain extent haunted. Hoping that being at Harvard will somehow bring her closer to her brother, she soon begins to suspect that her brother was hiding something. As she becomes obsessed with her brother's past, she begins to hear 'voices'. What follows is a story that has the trappings of most domestic thrillers, the only difference being the academic backdrop.

The third person narration distances us from Cadence, so that much of her personality remains unseen. We know of her troubled relationship with her mother but we never truly delve into Cadence’s sense of self. She makes many nonsensical decisions for 'plot' reasons, and I can't say that she ever did or said anything remotely remarkable or moving. Perhaps I would have sympathised more with her if she had at any point had an introspective moment. She briefly questions herself only when she's worried that the voices she's hearing are a figment of her imagination or a sign that she too may suffer from schizophrenia. She forms superficial friendships with her roommates and a guy who shares one of her classes, but for the most part she only comes into contact with individuals who are directly connected to her brother and his secret. Speaking of Eric's friends, it was weird that Cadence only speaks to his best friend once. Although Cadence grows close to one of her brother's peers, I never believed that she cared for the ‘living’ people she encounters at Harvard. She becomes somewhat chummy with the three ghosts who keep talking to her in her head, and who unsurprisingly help her in her investigation.
Throughout the course of Cadence's 'investigation' we get snippets from her past that focus on her family life and her bond with Eric. These were easily my favourite parts of the novel. These scenes, although painful, possessed a genuine quality that made them much more poignant that the ones that take place at Harvard.

“Simple narratives were easier to tell, to teach, to understand, to remember. The lie endures for generations, while the truth dies with its victims. But what were the consequences?”

Serritella's writing was absorbing and I generally enjoyed her reflections on family, mental health, grief, and Harvard’s history.
While part of me was happy that the novel didn't drag on the 'are the voice real or not', ultimately I wasn't all that taken by the novel's execution: it veers into exaggerated territories that are punctuated by flashy twists. What could have been a compassionate exploration of grief and of loving someone who suffers from a mental illness is weighed down by unnecessary thriller-esque melodrama. The supernatural element would have been a lot more 'haunting' if it hadn't been so cheesily predictable. While I appreciated the novel's commentary on academia/educational institutions, and the nuanced portrayal of Eric's mental illness as well as the realistic depiction of the stigma and discrimination against mental health, I was underwhelmed by the storyline and finale.

Specific plot points/scenes that were unconvincing/clichéd:

➜ The prologue. I'm tired of these prologues that 'tease' a possible death that is to come. The novel's first chapters were compelling enough that they did not require such a gimmicky opening.

➜ Cadence's first interaction with her roommate was jarring: “I’m Ranjoo, do you hate me already?”
“Only for those abs.” Who says that? Maybe if we had a better grasp of Cadence's personality I could have believed that she would say something alongs these lines.

➜ Nikos.

➜ The ghosts.

➜ Prokop.

➜ Eric.

➜ The chapters would often end on these would be cliffhangers.

➜ Lee.

➜ The epilogue

All in all I can't say that I disliked Ghosts of Harvard but there were many elements within the narrative that lessened my overall reading experience and opinion of the book.

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads
Profile Image for Bridgett.
Author 17 books414 followers
May 4, 2020
Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

3.5 stars

A long-time fan of Lisa Scottoline, I was very excited to see her daughter, Francesca Serritella, had also written a novel...and the synopsis sounded amazing. I was thrilled when the publisher sent me a copy.

Ghosts of Harvard follows the story of Cady as she traverses the Harvard campus during her freshman year, and attempts to discover why her brother committed suicide there the previous spring.

This novel is beautifully written and incredibly well-researched. I was amazed by the amount of investigating Serritella did to make things factually relevant. It was truly impressive. A Harvard alum, she had a keen insight into the workings of the Ivy League institution, which was fascinating. I found myself looking up images of the buildings and places she described.

Having said that, this book was far too long, a bit repetitive, and I'm not entirely sure the "ghost" stories really worked. I found them to be a distraction...and was disappointed when their appearance was never actually explained.

Overall, I'd say this is a better than average debut novel, but very slow-burning.

Available TOMORROW in the United States.

**My sincere thanks to the publisher for my review copy.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,822 reviews499 followers
May 16, 2020
Perhaps if the author had any idea what she wanted this book to be she wouldn’t have needed a bloated, melodramatic 500 pages to tell her story. The basic plot involves Cady, a Harvard freshman who has followed her brother Eric to college a few months after he committed suicide there. Eric was a paranoid schizophrenic and Cady uses his incoherent notebook to try to trace the last months of his life to find out why he died. Unfortunately, the basic plot is stretched in too many directions - family drama, ghost story, thriller. There are also too many issues - schizophrenia, guilt, grief, auditory hallucinations, theoretical physics, slavery, sexual harassment, anti-Semitism, academic espionage. And then there’s the whole “sex with a ghost” thing. Admittedly, the book did keep me reading so I’m rounding my 2.5 star rating up to 3. I hope that if the author writes another book there is an editor involved.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books1,000 followers
April 23, 2020
I think this novel could be described as a literary paranormal mystery. Part of the mystery is whether it’s paranormal or if Cadence (Cady) has schizophrenia like her older brother, who committed suicide at Harvard, the school she is now attending as a freshman.

Up until his diagnosis, Eric was Cady’s best friend. But the last two years of his life were tough, even when he was on his meds, which he kept not taking. Cady blames herself for his death. The “if onlys” keep cycling through her mind. She has his notebook with his cryptic notes. Eric used to make puzzles like this for her to decode, and she thinks if she can decode this, she’ll have some understanding of why he jumped.

So Cady has all the stress of grieving a brother who died just months earlier mixed with the anxiety of being a new student away from home in the dorms at the most prestigious school in the country combined with her decision to uncover a mystery. Along the way she’s helped by ghosts of Harvard.
Points of originality to the author. Parts were really beautifully written.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book, which RELEASES MAY 5, 2020.
Profile Image for Celeste.
887 reviews2,335 followers
September 2, 2022
I received a copy of this book from the publisher (Random House) and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ghosts of Harvard completely blew me away. At its core, it houses such a poignant window into mental illness and the victims it leaves behind when those struggling with it take their own lives. The portrayal of grief is brutal and beautiful and real. And yet this story is so much more than that. As she explores the Harvard campus on which her brother took his own life, Cady is faced with a plethora of mysteries. While her brother’s last days consume her from the start, she also finds herself digging into the university’s past as she grapples with fear over her own future. Ghosts of Harvard is a brilliant and seamless bridging of so many ideas and genres. I am in awe of how much research went into the writing of this book, and how Serritella was able to convey so much without a single aspect feeling forced. She struck a perfect balance in so many ways, and she truly gave the world a gift through the publication of this novel.
“Then where’s the room for a leap of faith? Just because you can’t explain something doesn’t make it untrue.”

Is there anything more terrifying that the fear of madness? The author does a brilliant job at portraying that fear in Cady. While she is compelled to investigate her brother’s suicide and discover what drove him during his last days, she is also fighting a rising terror that she is schizophrenic, as well. Her reactions are wholly believable without being either overly dramatic or unconvincingly nonchalant. Watching her spiral over the course of her investigation was disturbing and tense and filled me with a compassion for her that I find rarely invoked by fictional characters. Cady felt so real to me. She’s a bright girl who always lived in her brother’s shadow, and she doesn’t know how to do anything but follow in his footsteps. Cady is also one of the most internally aware and honest characters I’ve come across. She asks herself hard questions and tries her best to answer them, even when it’s impossible. She truly struggles to not only understand the brother who left her, but to learn who she is as a person, and I found this journey enthralling.
“The say that fate is written in the stars, but the irony is that stars don’t project the future, they reflect the past… I like to think [the people we’ve lost] are like the stars. Their light hasn’t gone out. Candlelight goes out. But something as bright as a star, as a soul, that light moves on.”

This is a novel of obsession. Cady is completely obsessed with learning all she can about her brother’s last year of life, and finding any little excuse she can grasp that might have finally pushed him over the edge into suicide. She is so consumed by this need for information that she begins seeing conspiracies in every shadow. How much of this need is madness worming its way into her own mind, and how much is actually real? And how can she maintain her grasp on reality, and her new life on an incredibly prestigious and difficult campus when she’s so wrapped up in the past?
“But time was two-faced. Minutes that ticks by like any other were the moments that changed a life forever, yet revealed themselves too late.”

Then there are the ghosts. The voices that Cady begins hearing in her head are one of the most fascinating elements of this novel. Are they an indicator that she is spiraling into madness? Are they supernatural phenomena? Or can they be explained by weird science along the lines of that explored in Blake Crouch’s most recent novels? All three possibilities were deftly juggled in a way that never tipped the author’s hand, but also didn’t feel frustratingly vague. There was one reveal in this ghostly aspect of the book that literally elicited a physiological response from me. With one word, or rather, one name, I found myself covered from shin to eyebrow with chills. It was a powerful moment.
“Do we all pick only the best snapshots to remember in our mental scrapbooks and throw away the bad? Perhaps all photo albums should bear the subtitle The Past—The Way You Want to Remember It.”

I’m a sucker for any novel revolving around or set within academia. Any school story is immediately appealing to me. Very few real-life schools are more well known than Harvard, so I was excited to pick up this book merely on the basis of the title. Thankfully, the school setting was truly utilized here, and the school itself became a very important character in its own right. The history of the school is fascinating, and I learned so much over the course of reading Ghosts of Harvard. And yet I never felt like Serritella was being too heavy-handed in her conveyance of this history, but instead balanced it very well against every other element of the story.
“History is never as simple a narrative as we write in books.”

Some people have expressed a frustration with the slow pacing of the book. I felt that pacing was actually very well maintained. Yes, the story meanders. But it’s meant to! Because we are experiencing Cady’s revelations alongside her, I felt that the pace of the story emphasized the time and care she as a character was putting into her hunt for answers. Her flashbacks were meted out in exactly the right amount. I never felt myself drowning in backstory, but was instead excited to see more of Cady’s past and how it had shaped her. I found the rhythm of the novel captivating. I also found the book far more unpredictable than I would have expected, which was a welcome surprise. This is a story that definitely keeps you on your toes.
“She noticed how easy it was to edit someone’s past so that all the pieces of a person fit neatly together… The lie endures for generations, while the truth dies with its victims. But what were the consequences?”

Probably my favorite element of this book was the philosophical bent to the writing. Serritella has a beautiful way with words, and I heavily annotated my copy. Not only does she write beautifully, she writes deeply. There was so much philosophical depth to this book. I was prompted to really think and self-evaluate over the course of the book. Not only was I touched by Cady’s story, I was actually impacted by it in a way that I truly believe will stick with me.
“Adventure is only possible if you don’t spoil the ending.”

Much like the university after which it is named, Ghosts of Harvard contains multitudes. This book is a campus mystery, a coming of age story, a scientific exploration of mental illness, a tale of espionage, a moving historical account, a romance, an esoteric dive into poetry and philosophy and faith and prejudice and a family drama. While this mingling could have led to a bloated and unpalatable slough, all of these elements were instead woven together with a level of grace and care that is truly rare. It was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I will be doing my best to get it into as many hands as I can. It’s a book that will haunt me, and I gladly welcome it.

You can find this review and more at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,311 reviews658 followers
June 6, 2020
To enjoy “Ghosts of Harvard” by Francesca Serritella, one must have an interest in spirits aka ghosts. I was a huge fan of the TV series “Ghost Whisperer” and this is in the same vein. Basically, it’s not realistic fiction; beyond the ghost factor, we have a plucky Harvard Freshman who sleuths her way, by ignoring classes and classwork. Perhaps the setting should have been a third-rate university. However, there is a reason that author Serritella chose Harvard to tell her tale, and she provides that information in her Author’s Note.

Basically, Cady, our intrepid protagonist, enrolls in Harvard to find out why her beloved schizophrenic brother, Eric, killed himself. Eric was a genius but was a noncompliant patient with a history of going off his medications. Cady is determined to discover what led Eric to commit suicide.

While on her quest, Cady begins to hear voices in her mind. These voices are spirits who are trapped in Harvard. Each spirit either went to school at Harvard or worked there. Serritella has political reasons to use her spirits.

In a short period, Cady unravels some secrets of her brother. She follows clues she unearthed. It’s preposterous that Cady accomplished all that she did in about a month’s time, while still attending school. Again, it’s not realistic fiction.

What Serritella does well is show how mental illness impacts a family. Add suicide to that illness, and families fall apart. Also, I’m a huge fan of Author’s Notes and she does a great job explaining her use of the ghosts.

This story is billed as a thriller, which it does build up to be at the last third of the story. There were a couple of obvious clues that Cady missed; however, Serritella threw in a couple of last-minute plot twists that made the read interesting.

It’s a “so-so” read. I cannot say I’d recommend it. I listened to the audio of the story, performed by Karissa Vacker. Vacker is fantastic with her wide range of voices.

Profile Image for Marisa.
1,143 reviews70 followers
April 21, 2020
I could not put this novel down and read for 2 days straight only taking “breaks” to sleep and eat. Absolutely outstanding and a novel that will stay with me FOREVER!!!

Francesca Serritella, is a local celebrity to me. She and her Mother, Lisa Scottoline, have delighted readers with their “chick wit” books and columns. Francesca is real, thoughtful, open and raw. I have gotten the chance to meet her and have been awaiting the arrival of this book for years. I must say IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT.

GHOSTS OF HARVARD transcends genre classification. It is a psychological thriller with twists and turns, it is emotional suspense with heavy layered family drama, characters that are multi dimensional and real, it is part ghost story full of haunting a and it is so beautifully written that it takes on a lyrical aspect. While reading, I felt myself walking the scenic campus of Harvard, got lost in the historical buildings and beauty of Cambridge. Throughout reading some of the scenes drove me to tears and were so beautifully written that I had to stop reading to be able to process fully and savor what I had just read.

I loved the character of Cady. I felt she was so beautifully written and I wanted to know her. Her naivety as a freshman trying to navigate so many emotions made me connect to her. I loved how open she was with herself but it felt real how closed off she was with others.

I admire Francesca so much for not only writing this novel and persevering through the years it took to make her dream of being a novelist a reality, but also for pouring so much emotion onto the page. She did so much research and also put so much of herself into these pages and the vulnerability And the rawness made the novel feel so real.

Francesca Serritella has written a novel that I will put in the hands of every reader I see. Fans of Jodi Picoult will love the emotion, fans of Kate Morton, Camille DiMaio and Fiona Davis will love how the setting takes on its on character and fans of Lisa Scottoline will love the twists and turns and Action.

Congratulations Francesca! You already had a fan in me from your columns and our personal interactions. You are absolutely amazing. Thanks to the author, Random House and netgalley for an early read. Counting down the days until May 5 when I can share this with so many others!!!
Profile Image for Cynthia.
730 reviews115 followers
May 24, 2020
First, before anything else, I want to address this important point: This is not a thriller. Not really. This is not a scary ghost story. Not at all. This story is partially a mystery and largely a young woman coming to terms with the grief of losing her brother to suicide. Sadly, this seems to have been promoted all wrong, which may be harmful to the author’s work when certain expectations aren’t met.

I thought the first several chapters captured the emotional components of a grieving family incredibly well. The author was very effective with this aspect and had it been the sole focus of the story, I might have enjoyed it a bit more.

While I knew this was more of a mystery than a thriller going into it, I did expect a chilling ghost story. The spirits here were more of the Casper variety. That was an unfortunate letdown for me but I still held out hope that I’d find the read worthwhile.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the way schizophrenia was used in the narrative. It’s a tricky thing, using mental illness as a plot device. Cady was trying to make sense of her brother’s illness and death. It’s logical that she might question her own sanity. And using the whispers of ghosts to help Cady process the details of Eric’s internal struggle is certainly a unique way to tell a story. There were adverse views expressed throughout the book that I felt were realistic and the author did well counteracting harsh, critical perspectives surrounding mental illness. I don’t think the tone was insensitive but I didn’t like some of what came to pass toward the end. Overall, however, I think Ghosts of Harvard handled this topic better than some of the other books I’ve read.

One of my biggest issues was that the story felt laden with excessive details. It’s clear that the author is an intelligent woman and had she written a non-fiction book on any of the many topics she addressed in this book, I’ve no doubt they would have been meticulously researched and thoroughly documented. For a fiction story, however, I felt I was given entirely too much information and this took away from the flow and engagement of the actual story.

Additionally, while crossover genres can merge well in books, this one seemed like it wanted to be too much of everything. I did not like the way this played out.

Since this story is such a slow build, it took a while before I began forming any real opinion about it. Despite realizing that I wasn’t a fan, I was curious and hoped there would be enough redeeming factors to warrant a three star rating from me. Unfortunately, by the time I reached chapter 45, which seemed too far to rationalize a DNF, I knew this was going to be lower rating. Some of the plot deviations were a bit too silly for my tastes. I was clearly not the right reader for this one.

The book offers some meaningful tidbits that may be appreciated more by a different reader. It’s a slow burn and the mystery within it was less compelling than what I had hoped for. If you think you’d enjoy benign spirits aiding a young woman’s struggle with overwhelming loss, a plethora of educational facts, family drama, hints of various mysteries, a love story, and a splash of thrill near the end, this might be the book for you!

Thank you Random House for my review copy. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Vonda.
318 reviews106 followers
April 15, 2020
This book had promise, but it went south fairly quickly. Cady goes to Harvard to chase the ghost of her brother who had committed suicide there the year prior. Is she spiraling into schizophrenia as her brother did as she uncovers deep secrets? The book was far too slow and flat. Such a shame.....
Profile Image for Kim.
1,197 reviews82 followers
February 8, 2020
This book is a mess. The story itself starts off enjoyable and full of intrigue and mystery with a little bit of ghost story mixed in. But everything goes downhill quickly. Lots of muddled references to various things that are never followed up on or never truly explored.

The story could have survived if it decided to be a mystery, ghost story, or family drama and stuck with the choice. The flirting back and forth with such an unsatisfying ending was just painful.

My copy was provided by NetGalley for review all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,666 reviews440 followers
October 16, 2020
Cady Archer is emotionally haunted by the suicide of her schizophrenic brother, Eric. She and her parents each carry a sense of guilt that they did not do enough to save him during his last year of life as a Harvard student. When Cady enters Harvard in her freshman year, she carries Eric's notebook of coded messages which he wrote while he was struggling with his mental illness.

Cady begins to hear voices of ghosts from Harvard's history. Is she also developing the same mental illness, or are the ghosts trying to contact her for another reason? She has trouble keeping up with Harvard's intensive courses because she's spending so much time talking to Eric's friends and mentor as she looks for the truth. The cryptic writings in Eric's notebook point to complications in his life that his family could never have imagined.

"Ghosts of Harvard" is a suspenseful mystery, as well as a coming-of-age story. The ghosts help Cady understand that none of us can rewrite history in other people's lives. The book has a good sense of place since author Francesca Serritella is a Harvard graduate. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Pam Jenoff.
Author 26 books5,063 followers
January 15, 2021
This remarkable fiction debut by Francesca Serritella (who is Lisa Scottoline's daughter and has also written some wonderful non-fiction with her mom) is the story of a young woman who goes Harvard not just for college but to find out why her brilliant older brother took his own life there years earlier. This is both a mysterious thriller and a touching exploration of family and self. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Amanda Hupe.
953 reviews54 followers
May 3, 2020
Thank you to Goodreads, the author, and Random House for the opportunity to read this book!

Warning: Suicide Warning and other possible mental health triggers

I am still reeling from reading Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella. Cady Archer is accepted to Harvard. This should be a time of joy and celebrating accomplishments. However, her acceptance is clouded by the fact that she is still grieving over the death of her older brother. Her brother was also a student at Harvard, the top of the physics department, prepping a project for the Bauer Award until the paranoia set in. He changed so dramatically in a short amount of time and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and commits suicide. Cady attends Harvard to get answers regarding her brother. She gets more than answers, voices guide her on campus, these voices are from actual historical people of the past. Are these voices real, or is she falling down the same path as her brother?

“Just because it’s my choice to go doesn’t mean I’m not heartbroken to leave you.”

Tears. So. Many. Tears. I feel like my heart was ripped out of my chest. The main theme is grief. Losing a loved one is hard beyond words. The author displays grief in a raw and in an accurate way. Everyone handles grief differently. This is shown is Cady’s family. Her mom holds so much hostility and anger. Her father is distancing himself. He wants to move on and doesn’t know how to move on. Cady wants answers. One of my closest friends lost her only brother, and I witnessed the heartbreak and the desperation to hold onto the memories.

Now, there is so much more to this book. In fact, this book has EVERYTHING! I am not kidding. This book goes into mental illness and how frightening it can be for those who suffer from it and how difficult it is for their loved ones. It also has historical elements, ghosts, suspense, romance, mystery, and espionage! Also, the plot twists are insane! The ending was not predictable in the slightest. I was heartbroken when the book ending. I fell in love with the characters. They are relatable and teach why it is so important to have empathy for those around you. You never know what struggles someone is going through.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I want to reread it already. The book is lengthy but I found that the pace moved along well and I never felt bored. I became completely addicted. I found out that this is a debut novel that has been 10 years in the making! It releases Tuesday, May 5th, 2020. So be sure to check it out! I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Erin.
583 reviews7 followers
May 20, 2020
I totally get what Serritella was going for with this novel - a mix of a paranormal ghost story, a psychological, spy thriller, and a coming-of-age college tale. However, I don't think she quite mastered any of them. "Ghosts of Harvard" is from the point of view of Cady, a freshman at Harvard who decides to attend the school despite her schizophrenic older brother committing suicide there the previous year. She starts to hear voices and begins to wonder if she's going to end up just like her brother.

Instead of a straightforward exploration of what happens when she hears these voices, the story ends up feeling really muddled and waaaay too long. It was difficult to sense where the story was going or which of the many side characters would actually turn out to be important. I think the setting of Harvard was really interesting and Serritella obviously can describe the college and its surrounding town in great detail. But it got to a point where there was almost too much detail (which I didn't know could be a thing). For example, it seemed superfluous to list the exact cafes, dining halls, dorms, etc. on campus when it didn't feel all that relevant to the story. There were also some sentences that I just couldn't get behind: "The low moon was a gold button on a navy sport coat sky." Huh? Sentences like this one made me feel like Serritella was trying to be too 'writerly' instead of writing the way people actually speak. To tell the truth, I would have loved this book if it had just been a simple ghost story because the historic ghosts were truly the most interesting characters.

*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review*
November 27, 2020
Health issues have been numerous the last two weeks and my reading schedule has gone for a toss.

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella was a wrong choice to read during an already painful week. So fair warning, dear readers, the review would surely reflect my lousy mood.

Yes, this has ghosts which is exactly the reason why it went into my TBR but Ghosts of Harvard is primarily a book about being haunted by grief. There is, in fact, a variety of genres vying for attention in this tale. It is a story of heart breaking anguish in losing a loved one, voices of ghosts that is often mistaken as auditory hallucinations, the historical parts that somehow complements the current story, the painful subject of openness and honesty in a family, the peer pressure of doing your absolute best in a top tier college, the overwhelming guilt of having wronged a loved one, each and every subject plays a part in moving the story forward to a climax that adds a layer of mystery and espionage to the end.

Cadence Archer is following the footsteps of her much-loved brother who committed suicide in Harvard. Securing an admission and forging friendship with her brother’s friend, Caddy finds it hard to believe that everything that her brother, a genius who suffered from schizophrenia, noted down in his notebook is gibberish. Caddy’s attempts to uncover the truth leads her to path unknown doubting her own sanity as resident ghosts of Harvard makes themselves known to her.

The author has brilliantly used the architecture of Harvard in creating a sense of history and old-world charm. The depiction of misery is stark and raw and definitely makes one’s heart bleed. Showing the mother, father and Cady dealing with the process of grief in their own ways was absolutely relatable and left me in tears.

Part thriller, part haunting drama about the effects of mental illness and suicide, Ghosts of Harvard should have been a thumping roller coaster ride but the ghosts and their history creates breaks in the story that somehow fails to yield a seamless narration.

This review is published in my blog https://rainnbooks.com/, Goodreads, Amazon India and twitter.
Profile Image for BernLuvsBooks .
724 reviews4,628 followers
November 15, 2020
This book is like a buffet meal, it has a little bit of everything - mystery with paranormal elements, mental illness and family drama! ⁣

I love stories with ghosts so this book immediately intrigued me. It ended up being about much more than I expected. It was part murder mystery with a sprinkling of the paranormal but it’s really about grief, family and mental illness. It was honest, real and thought-provoking. ⁣

This book was a slow burn but the audio had me entranced. I never found it boring. The mystery aspect was interesting but it was the focus on mental illness, specifically schizophrenia that really caught my attention. The ghosts and how their stories were woven in to the story and Caden’s own struggles with mental health was riveting. I actually wanted more at the end. ⁣

I’m glad I gave this one a try. It’s hard to pigeon hole it in one specific genre but if you enjoy mysteries with paranormal elements that focus on family drama then this one is for you! I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook version. ⁣
Profile Image for Karen R.
833 reviews492 followers
May 7, 2020
Cady Archer is obsessed with the death of her brilliant yet schizophrenic brother who ended his life while at Harvard and she is desperately looking for closure. Cady has her brother’s smarts and despite her mother’s wishes, enrolls at Harvard to try to find answers to what led to his suicide. She starts hearing voices from the past and fears she is following in her brother’s footsteps, displaying symptoms of schizophrenia. The chilling story is complex, entertaining and I raced through it. I especially enjoyed the spotlight on Harvard. It's campus and educators being brought to life and bits of history exposed was educational and interesting.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 44 books6,766 followers
August 26, 2020
An accomplished debut, richly imagined and beautifully wrought with all my favorite questions about hauntings, inner and outer.
Profile Image for Monica (crazy_4_books).
660 reviews115 followers
September 6, 2021
A debut novel that excelled my expectations. There were more things I liked than I disliked in "Ghosts of Harvard". One main problem is the length, it's too long and convoluted. It was catchy enough to keep me interested in flipping the pages, the chapters are quite short, which helped me with the pace. I think the story would have benefited if some sections would have been edited out or shortened. The setting is Harvard University, the way the author details the ins and outs of the old college is oustanding. There's also dark academia vibes in this book, which I love. But deep down this is a mystery that plays with the paranormal and deals with heavy topics: suicide, grief and schizophrenia. The writer did a stellar job in the way she approached these serious matters, but the book somehow fell into the "family melodrama" spectrum. Cady is a freshman at Harvard. She decides to go there, contrary to her parents wishes, in search of answers to why his older brother, Eric, took his own life on campus just a few months earlier. Eric had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, but Cady doubts if his death had been actually a suicide. Once there, she gets entagled in a mysterious journey in which she finds some alive suspects, Eric's old journal, and she starts hearing the voices of three ghosts. There were too many pages devoted to college life, classes and stuff. There were also too many flashback passages inserted in the chapters telling us Eric's mental debacle. I'm saying that context is necessary, but it was just too much, it dragged the storyline, especially in the middle. I wanted to know faster the endgame and I would have liked some more ghostly scenes.
Profile Image for WS_BOOKCLUB.
324 reviews18 followers
February 11, 2020
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on May fifth.

Hmm…where to begin with this book? I rarely give trigger warnings, instead describing books as harsh if they discuss heavier subjects, but in this case I think I need to add a trigger warning. Suicide is an ongoing theme throughout this book. It’s mentioned in the blurb, so it’s not hidden or anything, but if that’s something you don’t want to read about, you might want to skip this review.

I actually almost gave up on this book multiple times. Parts of it hit too close to home and brought up feelings from my own mental illness diagnosis (bipolar 1, diagnosed during high school. Fun times). I prefer not to think about that time in my life, so this book was difficult for me.

So, why did I finish it? Because Francesca Serritella is an extremely talented author. If she wasn’t, I would have had no problem reading this book. Instead, she made the characters easy to connect to. I felt for Eric as his illness was spoken about. I was heartbroken on his behalf when people felt “embarrassed” by him. I can’t say I understand fully how schizophrenia works, other than that it has some symptoms that overlap with bipolar, but I can absolutely relate to the feelings of loneliness a mental illness diagnosis can carry with it.

This book is about Cady (Eric’s sister) and her decision to follow in her deceased brother’s footsteps to discover what led to his death by suicide. She learns that things are much more complicated than she originally thought. He was a paranoid schizophrenic (as well as a brilliant young man with tons of potential: a diagnosis is not an identity), and as he came close to the end of his life, he began to think he was being followed and was in danger. As Cady learns more of who her brother was, she begins to wonder: was he right?

At the same time, Cady begins hearing voices that no one else hears. She starts to question whether she might have the same mental illness as her brother. Needless to say, this scares her. What made me sad about this is that she was so afraid to mention her concerns to anyone. Again, the stigma against mental illness rears its ugly head.

This book was very well-written, but I would never be able to reread it. And, honestly, I felt that the ending diminished the rest of the book a bit. It felt out of place and took me me out of the story. However, the author wrote a compelling story, even though it was most definitely a harsher one.

If you struggle with suicidal ideation, I strongly suggest you skip this book. It is a good one, but ultimately it wasn’t for me.
Profile Image for Laura ☾.
815 reviews269 followers
November 30, 2020
3.75 stars

Somehow, I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The writing was easy to follow and definitely engaging, and the concept was also an interesting one, but somehow it fell just a little short of that mark that would make me rave about it.

Serritella deals with grief and mental illness quite well, but again somehow it just didn't hit that spot of being incredible. I think the plot had a few too many elements going on that weren't fully explored, and then others that were explored at too much length.

Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,285 reviews216 followers
July 23, 2022
***Thanks to NetGalley for providing me a complimentary copy of GHOSTS OF HARVARD by Francesca Serritella in exchange for my honest review.***


Only months after Cadence’s schizophrenic brother Eric committed suicide at Harvard, she begins her freshman year at the prestigious university. Soon she begins hearing voices. Wondering if she inherited Eric’s mental illness with auditory hallucinations as a symptom, Cady also considers she’s hearing the purported GHOSTS OF HARVARD others have heard for decades. Cadence also searches for answers about her brother’s last months including his scientific research. Danger lurks nearby, but is that peril in her head or from outside sources?

Francesca Serritella’s debut novel follows her humor essays penned with her mother, best selling writer Lisa Scottoline. A talent in her own right, Serritella’s word building is compulsively readable. Though GHOSTS OF HARVARD gets off to a slow start with backstory, after about 20% the pace picked up.

I loved Cadence. Her earnestness, kindness and smarts had me rooting for her from page one. I didn���t like her mom one bit and had difficulty seeing her as multidimensional, even while understanding she was mourning her son. Throwing Cady under the bus and canonizing Eric hit too close to home for me. I enjoyed Cadence so much, I imagined seeing her in a sequel.

GHOSTS OF HARVARD is the first of what I predict will be many well-written novels by Francesca Serritella.
Profile Image for Sheena.
576 reviews255 followers
May 20, 2020
Ghosts of Harvard follows the story of Cady trying to piece together what happened in leading to her brothers suicide at Harvard University. The writing was interesting enough but a bit of a slow burn. I do think the book could have been 100 pages less however, I did want to find out what happened so I kept pushing on. I expected more of a thrilling ghost story so I'm a little disappointed but that is just a personal preference and in no way makes this a bad book. I think some of the plot lines that were thrown in seemed random towards the end and didn't really fit with the story such as the actual ghosts and a few other things but I don't want to give that away. I do admire the research Serritella did on Harvard, its history, and mental health. This book makes me want to go back to school and get my Masters degree.. I actually miss being in that setting, who would have ever guessed?

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy!
Profile Image for Sheila.
939 reviews84 followers
August 10, 2020
4 stars--I really liked it. Trigger warnings for suicide and mental health.

This starts as a ghost story and ends as a spy novel. For real!

OK, that's not REALLY true (though the book has elements of both those genres). It's actually an introspective, quiet novel about mental health and family relations. I really liked the coolness of the narrative voice (such a relief after reading too many first-person novels. Yes, I am biased).

The only thing I didn't really like was Cady herself--she's kind of a blank slate who reacts more than acts. However, I appreciate that she grows and changes throughout the book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,328 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.