Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison
Plot: Gilda Joyce, aged 13, lives an ordinary life with her widowed mother and older brother. But Gilda doesn't want to be ordinary; so she dresses up in outrageous costumes as an investigator, practices her psychic skills, forces a distant relative to invite her to visit for the summer, and finds a mystery to solve involving a dead woman, a locked tower, an unknown cousin (Juliet) and a ghost.
The Good: Growing up, I was the total opposite of Gilda on the outside; never would I have dressed up as she does, or drawn attention to herself as she does. Not in a million years. But I would have loved reading about her; and would have been inspired by her confidence, just as I was inspired by Harriet's love of adventure. It's not just that Gilda has confidence; she truly doesn't care what other people think.
OK, sometimes Gilda does care; in her effort to recast her ordinary life as something special and exciting, upon occasion, Gilda has told a lie. Or two. And developed a bit of a reputation as a liar. But as Gilda explains, "it's not a lie if it comes true". And Gilda, by force of will, makes some of her lies come true. She says she is going away for the summer (lie), so when she finds out about a distant relative she gets herself an invite for the summer (now it's true.)
Gilda tells stories; and as she investigates things around her, she writes them up (like any good investigator) as "progress reports."
Gilda's dad died a few years ago; I like that this book isn't so much about his death, but is about the family recovering from that death. While this is about ghosts and psychic stuff, it is also about the reality of death and loss.
As for the ghosts.... when kids and teens come in looking for mysteries, my first question to them is ghost-mystery or mystery-mystery? Unlike adult mysteries, the mysteries for teens and kids often have ghosts, making it less a "kid solves a mystery" book and more a "spooky things happen in the mansion" book. GJ, PI leaves it up to the reader whether or not Gilda is psychic; and whether or not the ghosts or real. There are Scooby-Doo like explanations for everything that happens; and it is up to the reader to decide which reason is the real one.
This book is told by Gilda and her cousin Juliet. The mystery Gilda investigates is about Juliet and her immediate family; I liked the two perspectives. It helped emphasize Gilda's awesome bravado and lack of fear; it also showed Juliet as both withdrawn and reflexively snobby (ie quick to notice Gilda's cheap clothes). Not only does this move the story along, showing things that Gilda couldn't know, it also helps set up the "is it or isn't it" ghosts explanation. I know there is already a sequel out, and I will be missing Juliet but at the same time I'm intrigued to see how Gilda will continue to make lies true and push her way into people's lives.
Here's my favorite example of Gilda being clever and quick: When asked by an annoying person, don't you have a boyfriend, answer yes, my teacher.
A great middle school book. Had I read it when it came out, it would have been on my Best Books of 2005 list.
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