Touch is a novel I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Silence, its well-received predecessor, was Michelle Sagara’s first foray into Young Adult waters: a story of ghosts and friendship, grief and compassion, and higher stakes than are initially apparent. As a sequel, Touch more than lives up to expectations.
It can be difficult to review quiet books. Books where the emphasis is on the interpersonal moments, where all the freight falls in the relationships between characters, in subtle cues and moments. Books where the tension is mostly between people of good will and the exigencies of circumstance. Touch isn’t a flashy book. You only realise how well it’s succeeded as a novel when you pause to reflect on how much it’s made you care, and in what ways.
That is not to say that there’s no action, and no derring-do. There is. Just, like Silence, it’s not exactly the point.
In Silence, teenage Emma Hall, recently bereaved of her boyfriend Nathan, discovered that she could see ghosts, and affect the world of the dead. Emma is a necromancer, a potentially very powerful necromancer, and the vast majority of necromancers are deeply unpleasant people, led by the Queen of the Dead. But Emma and her friends Allison, Amy, and Michael—and the mysterious duo Chase and Eric, who’ve trained to fight necromancers—are decent sorts. Emma, in fact, is the kind of person who will put herself in danger to rescue a child who’s already dead from suffering as a ghost, but her power means she’s a target for other necromancers, who want to use her.
In Touch, more of the narrative is carried by Emma’s best friend Allison. Allison has no special powers or training, and Chase—who distrusts all necromancers, and has grown fond of Allison—wants her to stay away from the great big shiny target that Emma’s become. But Allison isn’t the kind of person who walks away from her friends. Even if it threatens to put her life at risk.
Emma, on the other hand, has been reunited with Nathan. After a manner of speaking: Nathan is still dead, but his ghost has returned home, far sooner than anyone thought possible for a ghost to do. This is a complicated situation for both of them, and meanwhile, Emma’s mother has brought home a new boyfriend/potential partner to introduce to her. Necromancers still threaten her life, and the lives of her friends, and Emma has begun to wrestle with the question of whether it’s right to put the people in her life in danger just by being around them.
Readers of Michelle Sagara under her other name, Michelle West, will be familiar with the mood of creeping dread, the undertone of horror, which Touch at times evokes. For all that this is a novel deeply concerned with loyalty, with healthy friendships, and with human decency, it doesn’t hesitate to wrap cold fingers around your spine and yank when the moment calls for it. Sagara’s characters are believable, flawed, and very human, and make for compelling reading.
Reflecting on Touch, in some ways I’m put in mind of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the early years. Not the humour, not the apocalypses, not the world—but the way in which a group of friends come together to support each other in the face of painful events and weird shit. I really enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing how Sagara resolves the dilemma confronting her characters in Touch’s final pages. More like this, please.
Touch is available now from DAW.