Cover image for White ghost girls
White ghost girls
1st American ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Black Cat, c2006.
Physical Description:
168 p. ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Includes reading group guide.

Originally published: Great Britain : Atlantic Books, 2006.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Summer 1967. The turmoil of the Maoist revolution is spilling over into Hong Kong and causing unrest as war rages in neighboring Vietnam. White Ghost Girls is the story of Frankie and Kate, two American sisters living in a foreign land in a chaotic time. With their war-photographer father off in Vietnam, Marianne, their beautiful but remote mother, keeps the family close by. Although bound by a closeness of living overseas, the sisters could not be more different -- Frankie pulses with curiosity and risk, while Kate is all eyes and ears. Marianne spends her days painting watercolors of the lush surroundings, leaving the girls largely unsupervised, while their Chinese nanny, Ah Bing, does her best to look after them. One day in a village market, they decide to explore -- with tragic results. In Alice Greenway's exquisite gem of a novel, two girls tumble into their teenage years against an extraordinary backdrop both sensuous and dangerous. This astonishing literary debut is a tale of sacrifice and solidarity that gleams with the kind of intense, complicated love that only exists between sisters.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

For all its dreamy lyricism, this debut novel about two teenaged American sisters growing up in Hong Kong one summer boasts a satisfyingly complicated plot and a devastating conclusion. While their father is away photographing the war in Vietnam for Time magazine, 13-year-old Kate, the book's now adult narrator, and her big sister, Frances, revel in the simple life of Pok Fu Lam village. They swim in the harbor, dive for sea slugs and urchins, and listen to housekeeper Ah Bing's intense folk wisdom. ("Having babies is hard and sore," she tells them. "If you die, your spirit will sit in a pool of blood.") Their mother, on the other hand, spends her time pining for their absent father and painting watercolors that picture grassy western knolls. As Frances grows wilder that summer, Kate is forced to look more closely at their father's growing addiction to war reporting and their mother's lack of engagement with her surroundings and her family. Meanwhile, Vietnam, the Maoist cultural revolution and Frances's budding adulthood all threaten the "shipwrecked" sisters' intimacy. Along with death and sex, Greenway makes the illicit excitement of war and the sisters' opposing natures inextricably entwined. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

This is a novel about memory and loss and, most of all, yearning. Two sisters, bold Frankie and watchful Kate, come of age in Hong Kong during the summer of 1967. Their father is a war photographer who is away working for long stretches in Vietnam. Their emotionally distant mother spends her time waiting for her husband's visits. The girls are cared for by a sharp-tongued amah who calls them gwaimui, or white ghost girls. After a terrifying incident in the marketplace, Frankie, always a risk-taker, becomes recklessly, willfully wild, and Kate, who is younger than Frankie and in awe of her, begins to suffer from the stress of trying to keep Frankie safe. Kate knows her sister, desperate for her parents' attention, is a tragedy waiting to happen, yet she feels powerless to prevent it. Greenway is a remarkable young writer who vividly evokes Hong Kong's sights, smells, and sounds (the single chime of a high-pitched temple bell, the knocking of a wooden fish ) in poetic, finely detailed prose. What's more, she seems to have remembered every single charged emotion from adolescence and filters them all through the sisters' fierce, complex relationship. A heartbreakingly beautiful debut. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2005 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Kate and Frankie are American girls growing up in Hong Kong during the summer of 1967. Their father, a war photographer for Time magazine, can visit from Vietnam only sporadically. In the political turbulence of Mao's China and the United States's involvement in Vietnam, Hong Kong is hardly a safe haven, and their mother, overwhelmed by reality, retreats into the isolation of her painting. The sisters are supervised primarily by their amah, and when they decide to escape Ah Bing's watchful eye and explore the marketplace on their own, the consequences are devastating and far-reaching. As the summer progresses, Frankie becomes more and more reckless, and Kate must confront her ambivalence about her role as keeper of secrets and protector for her older sister. The author does a lovely job of exploring their relationship. Her sensuous prose evokes lush landscapes and languid afternoons. She masterfully interweaves peaceful physical beauty with the savage turmoil of war and paints an enthralling picture of the different ways that each family member responds to encroaching chaos. Despite the relatively short length of the novel, it is not a choice for reluctant readers, but teens who are interested in a different perspective on the Vietnam War era and enjoy being immersed in Eastern culture will find much to appreciate in Greenway's first novel.-Kim Dare, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Review

American teenagers Frankie and Kate are living in Hong Kong with their mother and nanny. It is 1967, and their photographer father is on assignment in Vietnam. Although he visits every six weeks, he is so caught up in the war that he pays little attention to his family. His wife, similarly distracted, spends her days painting landscapes of the lush environment. Not surprisingly, the girls crave parental attention and scheme to get it, their efforts taking them to places and introducing them to people both dangerous and tempting. Their intense bond, which draws them together while pitting them against each other, is brilliantly wrought, as is the era's political upheaval, which comes into sharp focus as the pair struggles to delineate friend from foe. As Frankie and Kate proceed to unravel life's rhythm and mysteries, Hong Kong itself becomes a third character. Greenway, an American reared in Asia and the Middle East, has created a compelling, heartbreaking, and original first novel. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.