Ghosts I have Been by Richard Peck

 published 1977


Oh how I loved this book: a 1970s YA novel by a master of the genre, which had escaped my notice till now. Richard Peck wrote four books about psychic goings-on in the town of Bluff City in the 1910s: and Blossom Culp is a heroine we can all get on board with. She comes from the wrong side of the tracks, with a shambolic mother, and gets on as best she can. She (like her mother) has psychic powers, but isn’t above faking them when necessary. Her friend Alexander comes from a more upmarket family. This is the second in the series, and follows her through a series of adventures in her home town, culminating in a trip to England and a meeting with royalty. She has a sharp eye and a sharp tongue and is very very funny.

There’s a Halloween prank that goes wrong, and then goes right. After resulting trouble in the playground at school, a very superior girl is forced by her mother to invite Blossom to her house – the picture has a look of the Sunny Thoughts & Busy Fingers club the posh girls belong to. With a mixture of trickery and a real vision, Blossom becomes noted for her powers, and makes a friend of the older Miss Dabney. She sorts out a ghost here, exposes a fake spiritualist there – the book is full of incident and great fun. There is then an unexpected connection with the Titanic (which sank a couple of years before). Blossom also has moments of seeing far into the future – there’s a funny description of television, and a surprising revelation of who will marry whom.

The whole book has a light touch and is a joy to read. It must have been a delight for the Young Adults who read it at the time, and I hope some of them can still find it now.

Blossom has an excellent distinctive voice and a turn of phrase. Of a reporter who failed to give her credit: ‘I don’t hold it against him. He’s since married Lucille Armsworth, so I have no doubt he’s paying for all his past sins.’ And with the fortune-telling mother: ‘it’s unrewarding to serve tea to one who only wants to get to the bottom of the mug to read the leaves.’

Blossom and her mother are very poor, but during the course of the book she earns some beautiful clothes from a shop in town. The pictures of young people, photo and adverts, are from the NYPL – I loved ‘Betwixt and Between’ young ladies, as the word ‘teenager’ hadn’t been invented yet.

The shipboard picture – from the Library of Congress – shows educator Ellen Flagg Young on board the Lusitania, and has a look of  Miss Dabney on the Olympia as they head for England.

I also read the third book – The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp (1983), which I also enjoyed very much – Blossom goes to High School, and this time pays an extended visit to the future, and sees how her home town will change. She is taken to 1983/4, and it is also fascinating to see what has changed since then, and which bits are still the same. (High School doesn’t seem to have changed much between 1914, 1983, and 2023 tbh). There is another Halloween prank and plenty of fortune-telling.

These are splendid and enjoyable books.


  1. I love the setup and context for this series, Moira! What an interesting protagonist Blossom is, too. I admit, I've not read the novels, but just from your description, it reminds me that YA can be at least as interesting as adult fiction - perhaps even more so.

    1. Thanks Margot - I really did enjoy these books. I'm wondering now - have you ever looked at the growing genre of YA detective stories in your reading?

  2. These do sound like perfect, escapist comfort reading, Moira. Chrissie

    1. Exactly right Chrissie. The books have great charm.


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