I never imagined ghosts could be racist.[loc. 1047]
Dmitri, known as 'D', is an orphan: he' black, but is being fostered by Mrs Martin, who's elderly and white. He's struggling to make an identity for himself. D makes two good friends at his new school: Keem, a basketball jock who's struggling with his grades, and Nyla, a punk girl whose upbringing in a military family has left her self-sufficient and worldly-wise.
Oh, and there's Nuru, a spirit manifesting as a talking bird. Nuru's mission is to free the ghosts who linger in Prospect Park, unable to leave.
Ship of Souls is a very short novel that nevertheless manages to bring together the American Revolutionary War, the African slave trade and 9/11. While D's narrative voice sometimes reads as rather more mature than his stated age (11), his motives and emotions are clear and credible. Keem's problems -- he's a Muslim in post-9/11 America -- are also depicted sensitively and believably; and I liked Nyla's tough brand of feminism. ("I’m proud of who I am and how I look. But I got a right to be myself and be respected when I’m out in the street.")
This would be an excellent novel(la) for younger teens: it deals with some big themes sympathetically and accessibly.