I won a singed copy of this book on Goodreads and thought I was getting a ghost story. I know it said memoir but I was thinking it was about a child growing up seeing ghosts. Well I was partly right, there are plenty of ghosts in this book and unfortunately they're much more terrifying than the traditional ghosts shaking chains in the attic. The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts: A Memoir by John Mitchell is his account of growing up in England during the 60's. It's about poverty, abuse, mental illness and so much more. Abandoned by his father who is an alcoholic John's family had to make do in a time where the stigma of being a single mom with children was very hard. Not only were they frowned down upon but there just weren't as many options for women back then, educated or not. John's mom is on the verge of a mental breakdown trying to take care of her three children. John suffers nearly daily abuse at the hands of his older sister and he grows up thinking there is a dead ghost in his house, it's in the attic, in the walls and always in the darkness just at the edge of his vision waiting for him. But that is only the beginning of John's nightmare.
I was sucked into the book immediately, it is a memoir but reads unlike any memoir or true account I've ever read. Not only is the pacing superb but John has such a way with words that you just don't want to put the book down at all. One of the best surprises about this book is the way that John is able to recall his childhood and tell the tale through his younger self. I have never seen anyone reconnect with their inner child in such a way. It doesn't read like a man wrote it nor like a man trying to recall things through his childhood eyes. It reads exactly as if a 9 year old was telling the tale. And as the years go by and the boy grows older his narrative changes with him, becoming more mature, wiser in years yet still always a child although I'd argue that John never really got to be a child. He was thrust into the role of being the man of the house at a very young age and took his role seriously. Reading his attempts to help his mom combat her depression was priceless. There are some truly horrible moments in this book but Mr. Mitchell tells his tale with so much depth and humor that I found myself both horrified and laughing at the same time, then I felt bad about laughing because it really isn't a laughing matter but you just can't help it. So many things are told with such a unique humor that you can't help but laugh at it and that really above anything else helps to bring some much needed levity to so many deep and disturbing moments.
I'd really like to talk more about John's older sister since this is really her tale but the impact of learning what's really going on will be ruined for you if I do. During the start of the book I disliked her immensely then with horror I started to understand what was truly happening and I felt nothing but pain and immense sorrow for her. If you've never read this book then I urge you to do so and whether you read it or not I'd also urge you to check out Mr. Mitchell's Facebook page which has so many great topics that he shares with us. They continually bring me hope and inspiration on a daily basis.
I've always believed in "real" ghosts or more properly that when bad things happen in the world that they leave a negative image behind. I mean it makes sense, after all when bad things happen to you they leave the scars and negativity in your mind for years to come, if not forever and unfortunately those kind of ghosts are much harder to exorcise than the spooky kind. After reading his memoir I just really don't want to believe in actual ghosts anymore. I just don't have time for them. Lord knows I have plenty enough ghosts in my own closet that that I need to deal with. Long after finishing this book I'm left with the thought that if John Mitchell could overcome his fears and go on to be so successful and help so many people then so too can I become successful in my own way and that I too can overcome my fears and learn to truly live. I hope that John Mitchell will one day share more of his story with us. He has a unique talent and I'm so glad that he took the risk and faced his fears head on to bring us something so amazing. Thank you Mr. Mitchell.