Cover image for Ghost boy
Ghost boy
Lawrence, Iain, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Delacorte Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
326 pages ; 22 cm
Unhappy in a home seemingly devoid of love, a fourteen-year-old albino boy who thinks of himself as Harold the Ghost runs away to join the circus, where he works with the elephants and searches for a sense of who he is.
Reading Level:
580 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.4 11.0 43585.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.1 18 Quiz: 22816 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Unhappy in a home seemingly devoid of love, a fourteen-year-old albino boy who thinks of himself as Harold the Ghost runs away to join the circus, where he works with the elephants and searches for a sense of who he is.

Author Notes

Iain Lawrence is a journalist, travel writer, and author. His novels include Ghost Boy, Lord of the Nutcracker Men, The Skeleton Tree, and the High Seas Trilogy.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-10. Painfully tall and thin and nearly blind, albino Harold Kline has been the focus of harassment in his small town since childhood. Now at 14, in a desperate escape from misery and loneliness, he runs away, joining a small circus on route to Oregon. Gradually, he wins acceptance from the other "freaks" --loving Princess Minikin; gruff, hairy Samuel the Fossil Man; and the omniscient Gypsy Magda. When he teaches the three lumbering circus elephants how to play baseball, the lovely Flip and Mr. Hunter, the circus owner, also accept him. Set shortly after World War II, this is a surprising book, full of pain and poignancy, with gratifying undercurrents of love and humor. The dark subject matter may make this book difficult to sell, even though the writing is good, and the bizarre characters are both sympathetic and believable. Still, teens that stick with Harold on his odyssey of discovery and self-acceptance will be rewarded by an intriguing novel that pushes the boundaries of reality. --Frances Bradburn

Publisher's Weekly Review

An albino boy runs off to find comfort among the members of a circus troupe in post-WWII America. In a starred review, PW wrote, "This poignant adventure invites readers to look beyond others' outer appearances and into their souls." Ages 12-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-Experienced actor George Guidall reads this coming-of-age novel by Iain Lawrence (Delacorte, 2001), in which Harold learns to accept his "differentness." Frustrated at home and fed up with the teasing by classmates who don't understand what it means to be an albino, he runs away and joins the circus. The unique individuals there help him to learn about himself, to mature, and to accept tragedy when it comes. Guidall's gravelly voice changes frequently to reflect differences of age, sex, and foreign accents. Rather than using a falsetto, Guidall tends to become more guttural. His voice normally has a rather gentle tone; however, it changes easily to show anger and frustration. Also, he modulates the speed to adjust to the mood of the scene, and never hesitates with the circus slang. Guidall is careful not to become overly dramatic, and allows the author's words to elicit the listeners' emotions in both the very funny scenes with the elephants and the sad scene of death and its aftermath. This audiobook will help motivate reluctant readers.-Claudia Moore, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



It was the hottest day of the year. Only the Ghost was out in the sun, only the Ghost and his dog. They shuffled down Liberty's main street with puffs of dust swirling at their feet, as though the earth was so hot that it smoldered. It wasn't yet noon, and already a hundred degrees. But the Ghost wore his helmet of leather and fur, a pilot's helmet from a war that was two years over. It touched his eyebrows and covered his ears; the straps dangled and swayed at his neck. He was a thin boy, white as chalk, a plaster boy dressed in baggy clothes. He wore little round spectacles with black lenses that looked like painted coins on his eyes. And he stared through them at a world that was always blurred, that sometimes jittered across the darkened glass. From the soles of his feet to the top of his head, his skin was like rich white chocolate, without a freckle anywhere. Even his eyes were such a pale blue that they were almost clear, like raindrops or quivering dew. He glanced up for only a moment. Already there was a scrawl of smoke to the west, creeping across the prairie. But the Ghost didn't hurry; he never did. He hadn't missed a single train in more than a hundred Saturdays. He turned the corner at the drugstore, his honey-colored dog behind him. They went down to the railway tracks and the little station that once had been a sparkling red but now was measled by the sun. At three minutes to noon he sat on the bench on the empty platform, and the dog crawled into the shadows below it. The Ghost put down his stick and his jar, then dabbed at the sweat that trickled from the rim of his helmet. The top of it was black with sweat, in a circle like a skullcap. The scrawl of smoke came closer. It turned to creamy puffs. The train whistled at Batsford's field, where it started around the long bend toward Liberty and on to the Rattlesnake. The Ghost lifted his head, and his thin pale lips were set in a line that was neither a frown nor a smile. "It's going to stop," he told his dog. "You bet it will." Huge and black, pistons hissing steam, the engine came leaning into the curve. It pulled a mail car and a single coach in a breathy thunder, a shriek of wheels. It rattled the windows in the clapboard station, shedding dust from the planks. The bench jiggled on metal legs. "I know it's going to stop," said the Ghost. But it didn't. The train roared past him in a blast of steam, in a hot whirl of wind that lashed the helmet straps against his cheeks. And on this Saturday in July, as he had every other Saturday that he could possibly remember, Harold the Ghost blinked down the track and sighed the saddest little breath that anyone might ever hear. Then he picked up his stick and his jar and struck off for the Rattlesnake River. The stick was his fishing pole, and he carried it over his shoulder. A string looped down behind him, with a wooden bobber swinging at his knees. The old dog came out from the shade and followed him so closely that the bobber whacked her head with a hollow little thunk. But the dog didn't seem to mind; she would put up with anything to be near her master. They climbed back to Main Street and trudged to the east, past false-fronted buildings coated with dust. The windows were blackboards for children's graffiti, covered with Kilroy faces and crooked hearts scribbled with names: Bobby Loves Betty; Betty Loves George; No One Loves Harold. And across the wide front window of May's Cafe was a poem in slanting lines: He's ugly and stupid He's dumb as a post He's a freak and a geek He's Harold the Ghost. In the shade below the window sat a woman on a chair with spindly legs, beside a half-blind old man with spindly legs sitting in a rocker. Harold glanced at them and heard the woman's voice from clear across the street. "There he goes," she said. "I never seen a sadder sight." He couldn't hear the old man's question, only the woman's answer. "Why, that poor albino boy." The man mumbled; she clucked like a goose. "Land's sakes! He's going to the river, of course. Down where the Baptists go. Where they dunk themselves in the swimming hole." His head down, his boots scuffing, Harold passed from the town to the prairie. The buildings shrank behind him until they were just a brown-and-silver heap. And in the huge flatness of the land he was a speck of a boy with a speck of a dog behind him. He walked so slowly that a tumbleweed overtook him, though the day was nearly calm. In an hour he'd reached the Rattlesnake. In truth it was no more of a river than Liberty was a city. The Rattlesnake didn't flow across the prairie; it crawled. It went like an ancient dog on a winding path, keeping to the shade when it could. But it was the only river that Harold Kline had ever seen, and he thought it rather grand. He splashed his way along the stream, a quarter mile down the river, until he reached his favorite spot, where the banks were smooth and grassy. Then he sat, and the dog lay beside him. He put a worm on his hook and cast out the bobber. It plunged in, popped out, tilted and straightened, like a little diver who'd found the river too cold. A pair of water striders dashed over to have a look at it, and dashed away again. The dog was asleep in an instant. She hadn't run more than a yard in more than a year, but she dreamed about running now, her legs twitching. "Where are you off to?" asked Harold the Ghost. His voice was soft as smoke. "You're off to Oregon, I bet. You're running through the forests, aren't you? You're running where it's cool and shady, you poor old thing." He looked up at the sun, a hot white smudge in his glasses. The dog went everywhere Harold did. It seemed only natural to him that she would dream of the places he dreamed about. "We'll get there," he said, leaning back. The grass and the water and the blue of the sky made a pleasant blur of colors around him. "David will be on the next train, maybe. Or for sure the one after that. And he'll take us away. You bet he will." Excerpted from Ghost Boy by Iain Lawrence All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.