This book, by Jennifer Allison, is a lot of fun. It’s not deep, it doesn’t aspire to be anything other than a little ghost story with a friendship story thrown in. But it’s a lot of fun, for one reason: Gilda Joyce.
I loved the main character in this book. Gilda was funny, sassy, quirky, easy to like. That, and she reminded me (very much so) of C. In the first few pages, 13-year-old Gilda’s sitting in the last English class of the year, and her teacher asks her what she’s going to be doing for the summer. Going to San Fransisco, she replies.
“And what will you be doing there? A vacation with your family?”
“I’ll be writing a novel.” Why did she tell Mrs. Weinstock that?
Gilda’s pale, freckled complexion turned pink with embarrassment, and Mrs. Weinstock peered at her suspiciously. Gilda had been known to make up stories in the past, and she knew Mrs. Weinstock regarded most of her comments with a degree of skepticism. “Writing a novel is a pretty ambitious plan for a girl your age.”
Mrs. Weinstock obviously didn’t want to believe that an eighth grader could write an novel, even if it was Gilda, who had a unique talent for witting in a voice well beyond her years. In fact, because Gilda had used vocabulary words like specious and trenchant in some of her assignments, Mrs. Weinstock had unfairly hinted that she thought Gilda had plagiarized on several occasions.
“I’ve already written a few novels,” Gilda replied, “so it’s no big deal.” This statement was partly true; her bedroom closet was stuffed with bizarre stories that she hoped would someday make her famous.
She had me hooked.
The plot develops from there… Gilda actually does make it to San Francisco (her letter inviting herself is quite ingenious — and funny) to visit her mother’s second cousin, Mr. Splinter. It turns out that Mr. Splinter has a daughter named Juliet, and they live in a haunted house. The “psychic investigator” part comes in because Gilda takes it upon herself (with Juliet’s begrudging help) to figure out why (and whether) Mr. Splinter’s sister, Melanie, killed herself by jumping from the tower (and in the process, figure out what those late-night ghost noises are). It’s mostly, though, a series of adventures and intrigues and embarrassing situations that Gilda puts herself in to. And they’re mostly very amusing.
My only caveat to this story is the whole psychic thing. It’s not for those who have a strong aversion to it, though I think it’s all handled very tactfully (I normally don’t go in for seances, Ouija boards and the like, but it didn’t bother me). In fact, the seance that Gilda conducts is quite amusing (though she does come up with some answers…) I also think, though this one is considered middle grade fiction, that it’s for the older end of the age group. C was interested in it from reading the back blurb, but I think I’d rather she wait until she’s a bit older. M, on the other hand, is enjoying it thoroughly.
One last side note… I was puttering around the web looking for more information on Jennifer Allison (the book’s missing the author blurb — which I always read for some reason), and I discovered her web site. On it, she says that she’s from a “small town in Michigan” and listed among the review blurbs there’s one from The Saline Reporter, my home-town newspaper. In my experience (which is admittedly a bit out of date), the Reporter doesn’t normally do book reviews, especially ones of middle grade fiction. Which leads me to wonder: is Allison from Saline? Did we attend the same high school? (Did I actually *know* her? I don’t recognize her picture, but then people change from high school.) I have to admit that it would be really cool… and that would give me just another reason to recommend the book.