Teen Spirit

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Teen Spirit Book Poster Image
Romantic ghost story is light on chills and thrills.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Poet Emily Dickinson gets several mentions in the context of a English-class assignment, but there's little information about her. Teen Spirit includes Dickinson's poem "A Visitor in Marl" in its entirety. Kids will learn a little about the occult, including methods believers use to get rid of unwanted spirits and how they try to communicate with the dead using Ouija boards.

Positive Messages

Teen Spirit delivers a strong message that love's the only tool we've got to overcome life's pain and losses and the only thing that will always win over them. Heroine Julie also learns the small, everyday ways we keep loved ones with us after they're gone. There's  a cautionary message about overdependence: Love interest Grant tells Julie, "Without me, you'll never feel good about yourself," which Julie recognizes isn't true. Later she sees how being emotionally vulnerable can make us too dependent on what someone else says we're worth.

Positive Role Models & Representations

At 17, Julie is independent and self-sufficient; studious and devoted to family and friends, she won't give up searching for answers to her problems. Best friend Clark, 18, also is studious and supportive; in the confining atmosphere of high school conformity, he's not afraid to be himself. Julie confides in a sympathetic teacher, but most adults are mysterious and not much help, including Julie's mom, who's grief-stricken and emotionally withdrawn.


No violent acts but some disturbing or gory images: a swimming pool decorated to look bloody for a Halloween party and other scary decorations; and a dream in which Julie sees monsters having sex and leaving trails of organs behind them. Julie witnesses her grandmother's death, which isn't violent but is described in some detail.


Teen Spirit's only make-out scene is intense, with detailed description of touching and kissing a nipple, some touching below the waist with clothing still on, and much physical and emotional desire. A condom, still in its wrapper, appears. Several kisses, including one with tongue, but little detail. Two incidents of sexual harassment: A boy grabs Julie's butt at a party; later, at school, he makes a derogatory comment and gesture about her figure. Julie sees teens making out at a party and later dreams about monsters having sex.


Teens frequently use "f--k," "s--t," and variations. Other, occasional strong language includes "ass," "a--hole," "hell," "boobs," "bitch," "crap," and "pissing."


In the process of establishing mood or character, Teen Spirit mentions songs, artists (for example, Lady Gaga and Nick Cave), movies, and TV shows (the main characters love Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Characters try to communicate with spirits using a Ouija board. Other occasional product mentions include Shalimar, Honda, Volvo, Doc Martens, and Chucks, and someone is "Googled." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Although rare, drinking is significant when it comes up. Julie, 17, sips rum punch at a party and describes its pleasant effect; another time she drinks leftover wine at home to "wipe me out." It's implied that her mom's occasional wine consumption is an escape; when she's driven home from a bar, Mom is in a car accident and breaks a leg. Julie and Clark apply drops of herbal tinctures to their tongues two or three times a day to make themselves more receptive to spirit communications; Julie feels better after she starts taking the drops. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that with Teen Spirit, prolific author Francesca Lia Block (Love in the Time of Global Warming) leaves grit and fantasy behind in favor of a sweetly romantic ghost story. Sex, violence, and drinking are mild and infrequent, with a couple of exceptions: strong imagery in a dream with monsters, sex, and gore, and vivid erotic detail in a make-out scene. Frequent strong language includes "f--k" and "s--t." The plot revolves around ghosts and explores some mild occult themes, such as how to get rid of unwanted spirits.

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What's the story?

Julie's life turns upside down when her loving, supportive grandmother suddenly dies and her mom loses her job. After they're forced to leave their home for a tiny apartment, Julie finds a Ouija board in her new closet and quickly decides to use it to find out what Grandma wanted to tell her right before she died. At her new school, Julie quickly befriends Clark and meets his mysterious twin brother Grant, both also haunted by loss. Julie hopes the three of them can find the answers they're looking for -- so that living and dead alike can be at peace.

Is it any good?

Kids will root for likable, sympathetic Julie, though fans of Twilight-style supernatural romances might find less to sink their teeth into. Francesca Lia Block's romantic ghost story TEEN SPIRIT focuses on 17-year-old Julie's grieving process for her grandmother. Broadly telegraphed suspense about who's really the ghost is quickly resolved, and the book's overall atmosphere is more mundane than chilling. However, positive messages about preserving self-esteem and solving your problems with love shine through.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why ghost stories are so popular in movies and books. What about them continues to fascinate us?

  • Do you believe in ghosts? Why, or why not? Are ghost stories scary even if you don't believe in ghosts?

  • Do you see any similarities between Teen Spirit and other popular series such as Twilight? What's different about Teen Spirit?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love ghosts and romantic fantasy

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