Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella

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? 

Summary from Goodreads

Francesca Serritella’s Ghosts of Harvard was a perfect combination of the supernatural/unknown sciences, philosophy, a coming of age story, and a fictional look at the perspectives of relatives of those suffering with schizophrenia.

As a character, Cady was easy to sympathize with and follow along with on her journey. What starts as a coming of age story from the perspective of a young woman who has lost her brother to mental illness and then suicide, morphs into a philosophical glimpse into the ramifications of certain quantum physics theories, the strain of realizing there might be a genetic component to schizophrenia (what if it’s hereditary?) and the mystery of how and why Cady’s brother, Eric, died.

Through it all, Serritella keeps a respectful tone towards mental illness. While she explores the ramifications of inherited mental illnesses in the possibility that Cady may be experiencing what her brother experienced, never does the author dismiss, glorify, or create a maudlin tone surrounding mental illness.

Cady fearing going down the same path as her brother is presented in a realistic manner. The introduction of the ghosts at first seems like a sign that she is correct in her fears.

The ghosts in the story are not simply horror tropes, however. There are several scenes where the scientific theories are discussed, and the ghost characters have roots in history. On top of everything, the actual circumstances of Eric’s death become more suspicious as time goes on.

This mix of realistic portraits of grief and mental illness, science, para-science, philosophy, and mystery made this novel a truly interesting and enjoyable read. I would definitely pick up a book by this author again.

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