Running on relatable themes and unique motifs, Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, is a surefire way to engage your students through a contemporary text. The novel presents the story of a 7th grader named Ghost who struggles with a traumatic past and copes through running—both literally and figuratively. You can help students connect to the text by asking them what serves as their emotional outlet. They can write about or demonstrate a hobby, skill, or ritual that works for them. Possibilities include sports, music, poetry, and art. Encourage struggling students to think creatively; even a routine as simple as cleaning their room could be cathartic. This activity will help students understand how meaningful the track team is to Ghost.

In an interview for PBS, Jason Reynolds describes the motif of sunflower seeds as Ghost’s focal point: “The truth is that the sunflower seeds were also a reference to the adults in [Ghost’s] life. You have choices when it comes to how we deal with young people. You can chew them up, you can lick the salt, or you can take your time to crack the shell.” Pose questions as your students analyze Reynolds’s words. Which kinds of relationships “chew you up” and which “crack open your shell”? Use this quotation as a springboard for mapping Ghost’s relationships with the adult figures in his life (Coach, Mr. Charles, his mother, his father). How do each of these characters choose to treat Ghost, and how do their actions affect him?

Ghost includes various references that are significant to its protagonist. One particularly symbolic one is the Guinness Book of World Records, for which Ghost has impressive trivia knowledge. This book, given to Ghost by Mr. Charles, represents potential, specifically the potential Mr. Charles and other adults in Ghost’s life see in him. Facilitate conversation in the classroom about this and other references in the work that deepen thematic understanding.

For more helpful tips for keeping your lessons on track, read on!

Summary of Ghost

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Length: 208 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 730L
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6-8
  • National Book Award Finalist

Ghost follows the triumphs and struggles of 7th-grader Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw. At first, Ghost feels like an outsider—that is, until he stumbles upon the Defenders, a track team led by former Olympic gold-medalist, Otis Brody. All Ghost wants is to be the top sprinter on his track team; however, his troubling past continues to haunt him. As he forms bonds with teammates, and despite support from adults in his life, Ghost constantly gets in his own way, starting fights and even shoplifting. Ghost is running both away from his past and toward a new future: Which will win out?

Content Warning: Ghost contains some heavy subject matter, including domestic violence, substance abuse, and bullying.

What Your Students Will Love About Ghost

  • Ghost’s passion for running and friendships formed on the track team
  • A quick read due to its exciting plot

Potential Student Struggles With Ghost

  • References to sensitive subjects and emotionally charged events

Learning Objectives for Ghost

  • Discuss the various adult figures in Ghost’s life and how each has affected him; examine sunflower seeds as a symbol of these relationships.
  • Trace Ghost’s character development from someone terrified to move forward to someone ready to leave the past behind.
  • Explore themes that involve overcoming fear and trauma, trusting and supporting others, and taking responsibility.
  • Analyze the Guinness Book of World Records as symbolic of Ghost’s potential.
  • Compare Ghost’s passion for running to personal hobbies or other emotional outlets.

Literary Elements in Ghost

  • Allusion
  • Character
  • Cliffhanger
  • Motif
  • Point of View
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • And more!

Major Themes in Ghost

Overcoming Fear — In order to embrace his true potential, Ghost must learn how to move on from the trauma that haunts him.

Related Works:

Parenthood and Mentorship — The novel explores several ways in which adults can interact with young people, and how those various kinds of relationships affect teenagers.

Related Works:

Isolation vs. Friendship — At first, Ghost feels like an outsider, coming from a low-income family; however, the track team offers him a support system he’s never had before, demonstrating how friendship can carry a person through difficult times.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Ghost

Order Ghost Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Ghost Paperback Student Edition