Preloved - Shirley Marr 3.5 stars. *** You might come across something you consider as spoilers reading my review.***
"Amy, remember that if you get lost in a forest and the ghosts trick you into thinking every direction looks the same – take your undies off, put them over your head and spin around in a circle. Then your path will be clear."
Shirley Marr's second novel, Preloved, is thoroughly peppered with indispensable pieces of wisdom like this endearing warning the heroine's mother sends her daughter off to school with. Shirley states at the end of the book that she has all these sayings from her own mum, who may or may not resemble Ivy Lee, a tiny Australian woman of Chinese descent, who operates on a very fixed believe system rooted in ghosts, good and evil spirits, reincarnation and consequently the repercussions of what you do in your present life on what or where you will be in your next one and the time in between. In addition she is a bit forgetful, easily distracted, slightly wacky in general and not the kind of person who cuddles and coddles relatives and friends, which is her case is obviously a culture thing. In spite of that I could seamlessly relate: Although my equally strange and distractible mother - who I am by the way very grateful to for putting so much effort into trying to raise me and my siblings right – pulled her various rules and wild convictions out of a Christian hat. I used to cover my ears and hum to myself, for instance, when other kids started to recite horoscopes from a teen magazine, because "attempting to look into your future will have bad consequences" - and I admit that I still feel kind of queasy today when someone insists on learning my zodiac sign. My mum and I reintroduced hugging into our relationship when I left for university and did not spend so much time with her anymore. I was never called by anything else than my five-syllables-long name (which I do not really mind, but which I noticed when other parents called their little girls "snail" or "bunny" or "treasure" or shorted versions of their given names), and I always resented her tendency to add each and every knick-knack somebody gave to her to the dust-gathering clutter on bookshelves and cupboards and grinded my teeth to dust because of her very annoying habit to tell me exactly what to do and what to change - when all I had wanted was letting her know how things went for or against me in my world. Maybe that is the reason why I feel particularly attracted to mother-daughter stories – in all likelihood you know my huge adoration for Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta - and I instantly liked both generations of Lee women in Preloved. For inherited wackiness nonewithstanding Amy is unquestionably sweet and funny and warm. She connocts very interesting daydreams and she fantasizes a little about making out with a nice and nerdy gamer boy. (I especially appreciated that this potential love interest is described – by himself – as being rather chubby and not so quick on his feet, and that his being overweight does not render him unfit to star in the heroine's romantic fantasies). Amy is very reluctant to act upon her attraction and I understood that her hesitation derives from witnessing her father's excessive alcohol consumption and the desctruction of her parents' marriage laced with ugly fights and unresolved financial matters. But as the remainder of Amy's off-putting behavior, her self-fabricated state of one-weird-friend-only-loneliness, is concerned, I have to say I did not get that at all and the feeble hints at a possible cause at the end did not convince me or help me understand: Why again did she put her friendship with kindergarten buddy Nancy Soo, who is still caring and clever and snarky, wonderful to talk to and solid enough to lean on, on ice? Why does she spend her time with self-centered boy-magnet Rebecca, who every girl despises for a reason, when there is no benefit in the form of confiding in and relying on each other included in that friendship? Why does she almost revel in her outsider status and utters strange and incomprehensive things when she is obviously on the brink of being suffocated by her physical and mental loneliness? Shirley's dedication at the beginning of the novel - "For everyone who preferes abnormal to paranormal and a bad romance to a love story" - certainly rings true: Amy Lee's spiritual episode in Preloved is no ghost-and-girl-love-story, 80s ghost boy Logan Feldmann is no Jesse de Silva I had, by the way, never the impression that Logan might be dangerous as the cover text boldly suggests. He is simply a ghost, popping up randomly, obsessing about his former girlfriend Stacey and remembering very little about himself, which makes his actions a little uncalculatable., and Amy's haunted moments just make the lonely parts in her ache with a longing for touch and laughter, for closeness and romance. The exclusive relationship with someone only she can see beckons strongly to her, because Rebecca's attention is only available as long as no potential admirer claims it. Logan's attention wanders, too, but only Amy can hear and help him, and and his demeanor shows that her well-being and her future matter to him, as well. His questions according to his own past make Amy, who is into preloved films and music and clothes anyway, suddenly want to unravel the knots that hinder herself to live freely, as well. Still, to find my way as a reader through the glittering prism of Amy's far-flung motivations and actions and puzzling school events like an 80s week was quite difficult and occasionally exhausting. The plot jittered and jumped, and I, I tagged along – because in some way Amy's fate had become important to me. Before I end my musings I need to say something about the language and something else about the cover:

As a non-native speaker, who during the 80s experienced the English language solely in the form of textbooks designed in the 70s, I am not really able to sort slang words used by fictional characters according to era, social standing or even an author's creativity. Therefore my impression that Logan's constantly "spewing" of especially fitting vocabulary left a rather forced/artificial bytaste might be the result of being a foreigner with a limited grasp of a multi-facetted language. I even sometimes fear that my own colloquial German is still too saturated with expressions of the decade I started my school career, which outs me automatically as a pretty dated person. As far as the rest of the book's style is concerned I need to stress how much I enjoyed that Shirley's unique brand of humor haunted every single paragraph. For someone like me, who loves her comments and reviews here on, 270 pages of her "abnormally" good writing in one go is definitely a treat to savor. This review of Preloved is actually meant to be a recommendation.

The cover of Preloved
is one of the most beautiful and alluring ones I have come across this year. I fiercely love it and already tried out the dots-of-light-effect on some of the pictures stored on my phone. It also looks more magical than the cute but rather dully colored cover of the modern Cinderella retelling If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?.
If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?.
That – apart from the 43 long days between dispatch and deliverey – makes it a tiny bit hard to part with the copy again.

... But I am determined to go though with my plan to pass the book to someone else – although I am not sure exactly how. Maybe someone is willing to swap it – internationally – for something on my wishlist or my want-to-own shelf? I guess if nobody contacts me within a week or so I will decide on a Giveaway or an preloved-books-offer at Amazon Germany.