The Cost of Closure by Lauren DeStefano
I was twenty-one when my father died, rather unexpectedly. And even though twenty-one is much older than the target audience for middle grade, there’s something about loss that brings everyone, regardless of age, to the same confusing and frightening place.
In the days and weeks following my father’s funeral, I had a lot of conversations about grief. One in particular that stands out was with someone who had lost her mother, who had lived to be ninety. To me, ninety years seemed like a luxury. So many years and so many memories you could swim in them.
I was shocked to learn that this person who had lost her mother at age ninety felt just as I did: that it still hadn’t been enough time. Up until his death, I had talked to my father nearly every day of my life, and once he was gone, I found myself filled with infinite things I wanted to tell him. I still do, even now.
But in the absence of any future conversations, I found myself clinging to my memories. Suddenly I was thinking of the long talks we had when he drove me to a college two states away, and again when I came home for the weekends. I was thinking of how he’d consoled me after my first relationship broke me to tears, and our Friday night rituals of selecting movies at a now-extinct rental chain. And through all of this I realized just how much these moments had shaped me into the person I was, and am today.
Each memory comes in a different shape, size, and color. Some are happy, others sad, and others still too hazy to stand on their own. But all of them are priceless.
When I wrote THE GIRL WITH THE GHOST MACHINE, Emmaline formed as a character very different from myself. Where I’m impatient, she’s compassionate and understanding. Where I’m hasty, she’s curious and thoughtful. Where I felt alone in my grief, she found companionship in her best friends, Oliver and Gully. But we had our grief in common, and through Emmaline, I was able to imagine what it would be like if I could conjure up the ghost of someone I missed desperately. The prospect was exciting at first. What would I want to say? What would I want to ask?
Emmaline Beaumont lives her life in the shadow of a glowing machine that exists in her basement. And because of her father’s fear of saying goodbye to his late wife—and subsequent obsession with getting the machine to work—Emmaline cannot truly move on. She listens to the humming of the machine as she falls asleep each night, and it greets her each morning when she awakens.
To Emmaline’s surprise, the machine begins to work. The price for a few moments reunited with a dear departed loved one? A memory of that person, which will be eaten by the machine and thus gone forever. It is a high price, but tempting nonetheless.
At the time of my writing THE GIRL WITH THE GHOST MACHINE, it had been nearly ten years since I’d seen my father, talked to him. I thought about all the things I wanted to tell him and how wonderful that would be. And as I wrote, I thought of all the memories I held dear. I imagined closing my eyes and dropping a fistful of those memories into a machine, to be lost to me forever.
Gully and Oliver represent the conflict such an opportunity presents. Oliver sees the ghost machine as a chance to provide closure and comfort. Conversely, his twin brother Gully thinks that memories are more precious than a few moments in the present with a departed loved one. Neither of them is entirely right, or entirely wrong.
Though THE GIRL WITH THE GHOST MACHINE was written with younger readers in mind, at its core it’s a story about grief, and grief unites all ages. Whether you’ve had a lifetime with someone, or a handful of years, or even just a few days, you’ll find that your memories of that person become all the more valuable. Are those memories too high of a price to pay? I’ll leave that up to the reader. After all the time I’ve spent with Emmaline Beaumont and her ghost machine, I still don’t know.
Lauren DeStefano is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Girl with the Ghost Machine, The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, A Curious Tale of the In-Between, The Internment Chronicles, and The Chemical Garden trilogy, which includes Wither, Fever, and Sever. She earned her BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut. Visit her online at www.LaurenDeStefano.com or laurendestefano.tumblr.com, or on Twitter at @LaurenDeStefano.