The Next

If all you know of ghost stories is from Scouts or summer camp, wait until you meet Joanna DeAngelis in Stephanie Gangi's first novel, The Next. Joanna is divorced, dying too soon from recurrent cancer; in home hospice under the care of her daughters, Laney and Anna; guided to the bathroom by her poodle, Tom; and angry as hell at her much younger lover, Ned, who left her for celebrity dermatologist Trudi, with her global social media following. Joanna is prepared for the end but unclear about what comes next. To her surprise, she is transmigrated into an invisible ghost "between realms," where she needs to choose a mission "to get to the Light." Still bitter toward Ned, the answer is obvious: "Revenge. It feels right, it's a classic, why reinvent the wheel? Isn't revenge what ghosts do?" And so off she goes to haunt the self-centered Ned. What fun Joanna has manipulating and destroying this cad's smug world.

Despite her somewhat over-the-top premise, Gangi, a poet and corporate communications strategist, tells a powerful story of family, love, grief and loyalty. As the thrill of humbling Ned wanes, ghost Joanna begins to reflect on her life with renewed pride in her daughters. There's not much funny about cancer, divorce and a broken heart, but The Next is an entertaining ghost story. Gangi gives it enough heft, however, to be a thoughtful meditation as well, on how to be a good mother, daughter, sister and lover. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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