Mystery,  Review

#BookReview : Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella #GhostsofHarvard #Academia #Mystery @PRHGlobal

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella
Publication Date : May 5th 2020
Publisher : Random House
Genre : Mystery
Pages : 480

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

“Every time I thought I knew where Ghosts of Harvard was heading, I turned out to be wrong. Part mystery, part ghost story, part psychological thriller, this novel is all entertainment.”—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light

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?

*** Note: I received e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to PRHGlobal for free copy. ***

Ghosts of Harvard was powerful and realistic mystery that revolved around Cady dealing with grief and trying to know more about his late brother’s last days at Harvard and getting at root of his illness or something that might have pushed him to the edge. The book was about grief, loss, feelings and emotions of family of schizophrenic patient, suicide and its trauma, fine line between madness and reality, guilt and regrets, obsession, deeper meaning of life, death, grace.

It takes only error to father a sin.

Ghosts of Harvard was third person narrative written from (Cady) Cadence’s POV whose sad and grieving voice made this beautifully written tale of espionage heavy, heart-rendering to read. It was between slow to steady paced because of so many information, description of Harvard and its history, and heavy subject it dealt with. Some didn’t like that but I didn’t mind slow pace. This was second book I read set in Harvard and again this university, its community and culture fascinated me.

I’m not going repeat how book started and what was the plot, synopsis was perfect in briefing it. First few chapters were about Cady’s arrival at Harvard, her motif and her feeling related to her brother and her family. In between her present, accommodating with her life at Harvard, we see the glimpse of past, both happy and sad memories of Eric, what Eric meant to her and her family, and how he turned from brilliant, lively, caring brother to paranoid, schizophrenic, and volatile person, how it affected her parents and how their undivided attention to Eric made her feel, and her own guilt and regret she was dealing with that lead to obsession- which was revealed near climax.

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

As I progressed in the book, I was curious to know what were those voices of ghosts, what they wanted from Cady, why she was hearing them and how they were helping her, were they just ghosts or she too had Eric’s illness.  And then there was his brother’s diary that added more mystery and I wanted to know if she could decipher cryptic writing in Eric’s diary or was that what everybody said- gibberish of mentally ill person, what she would find once she could decode it, would it would lead to what was going on in Eric’s mind and give her closure she was looking for and move on in life.

Do we all pick only the best snapshots to remember in our mental scrapbooks and throw away the bad? Perhaps all photos should bear the subtitle “The Past- The way You Want to Remember It.”

Both characters and plot were well balanced here. Diverse group of student, professors, ghosts, Cady’s parents, roommates, new friends she made, and other people she met during her investigation were interesting to read. They all were flawed and played great roles in happenings of Cady’s life and change in her.

It was easy to feel for Cady, I rooted for her. She was clever, empathetic, friendly and caring person but she had her flaws. She reacted badly to Eric’s illness. When she should have shown maturity and love, she acted selfishly but at the same time I could feel what it might be like for her to live under Eric’s shadow, even when he was healthy and even after his illness and death. When he died she regretted her behavior, felt guilty for not trying enough or being more patient. Coming to Harvard and voices of ghosts was huge turning point in her development. Her fear of being schizophrenic like Eric, emotions and feelings were amazingly represented. The way she was ignoring her friends, missing classes and not paying attention to her studies because her obsession and voice was worrying. By the end of the book, I loved her more and more. She learned a lot throughout the book and her growth and internalization was best part.

It’s human nature to default to our own narrow perspective. The stories we tell ourselves have such power, and yet they can cherry-picked, or otherwise fictitious.

I enjoyed history of Harvard, all scientific and academic information, back and forth argument between Cady and prof. Prokop on quantum physics and its correlation with ghosts and schizophrenia, discussion on poetic verses and on mental intuitions. Portrayal of grief, mental illness and its impact on family was written with raw emotions.

Ghosts were important in the story but this is not horror or ghost story. It did confuse me a little in first half of the book making me think what’s really going on with Cady but in second half I could understand it better. Back story of ghosts was thought-provoking and eye-opening. Their conversation with Cady gave story philosophical depth. I didn’t know Harvard kept slaves around 18th century and was officially declared in 2016 until I read it in author’s note. It showed how well researched this book was.

Now she understood that we must love people whom we cannot control, in fact, we are lucky to love and be loved by people we cannot control. If we could control the person, love wouldn’t be a gift. This was the uncertainty of life, and of death. It was what made life beautiful and terrifying at once.

Mystery was suspenseful. Climax was tense. I was worried for Cady and I felt her investigation is not leading anywhere and then everything happened fast and made sense- her trip to ER, parents’ weekend, final clue and her plan to reveal it. I didn’t like two people in this book, something was off about them from the beginning but author successfully made me rethink about it. In the end, I wasn’t wrong about that two. Only one was real villain and other had own motives but still when the final card was turned I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and at that moment I expected Cady fuming with rage but her new developed self – wise and looking at things from different perspective had different reaction. End and epilogue was perfect. This book will stay with me for long time.


Ghosts of Harvard was deep, impactful, powerful, and thought-provoking mystery with great characters, philosophical writing and eye-opening history, and honest and raw representation of grief, loss and mental illness.

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I hope you enjoyed this post and review. Let me know What do you think about the book or if you have read this already and what are your thought on this book. Have you read a book set in Harvard? If so, which it is and if you like it or not.

Happy Reading!

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Hi, I'm Yesha, an Indian book blogger. Avid and eclectic reader who loves to read with a cup of tea. Not born reader but I don't think I’m going to stop reading books in this life. “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”


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