Stephanie Gangi has written a very different kind of ghost story in The Next. Don’t let the idea of a ghost story pull you away from reading this debut that is a commentary on love and revenge, on illness and life, and on the thread between mothers and daughters, and yes, even dogs and their owners.

Joanna DeAngelis thinks she has found her solace after fighting breast cancer in her soulmate, Ned. Their passion will save her life, she believes, and it invigorates her physically and mentally. When her cancer returns and she’s betrayed by Ned, she becomes obsessed with tracking him on all the social media she can find on her phone. Even as her days wane down, time she should be spending with her two daughters, Laney and Anna–even as she leans on her standard poodle, her lifeline, Tom, to get to and from the bathroom from her hospital bed–even then, she is following Ned and his glamour fiancee in their upscale world– and boy, is her anger growing as she realizes she’s become the ultimate unseen older woman.

It grows until it glows, and as Joanna takes leave of her physical body, she finds herself in a dark place in her Upper West Side neighborhood and soon starts to zero in on Ned, releasing her fury in an attempt to reconcile her life and find her own peace.

Joanna’s voice is strong and determined and gutsy and heroic, even as she’s honest with the reader. Her daughters go through their own grief cycles. Music is a theme here, too, and the strength of memories. The strong voice of Joanna as she releases her rage at times has comedic qualities that lift the reader from the sadness and the depth of emotion. Regrets, secrets, the thrill of being connected intimately to another being are all explored with remarkable candor.

And a word about Tom. Any dog owner will recognize the strong bond between a dog and its owner. Anyone not a dog owner will still be able to clearly understand the unconditional love a dog has for its owner, a rare faithfulness and pure love that Joanna has lost when Ned deserts her, just when she needed him most.

This has a very visual feel and Auntie M can see if up on the big screen. Now who would play the vivid Joanna??

An accomplished debut in an original premise.