I've been saving Jennifer Allison's Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator for a couple of months, waiting until I had time to sink into my couch and read it all at once. Yesterday was finally the day. Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator is the first in a projected series about a thirteen-year-old girl with several "careers": writer, psychic investigator, adventurer. Gilda has always been unusual in her interests. Since her father's death two year's earlier, she has particularly bonded with the ideas of writing (having inherited her father's typewriter) and understanding paranormal phenomena.
As the summer begins, in need of adventure, she finagles an invitation to visit her mother's second cousin, Lester Splinter, in San Francisco. There, she uncovers a mystery concerning a haunted tower and the death of Lester's sister Melanie. Gilda also becomes acquainted with her prickly, snobbish cousin Juliet, and helps Juliet to overcome some long-standing fears.
Gilda is a delight: part Harriet the Spy (an acknowledged influence), part Nancy Drew, part Anne Shirley, and part I Love Lucy. She is relentlessly stubborn, has no concept of personal boundaries or what constitutes an inappropriate question, and even when she doesn't know if a particular madcap scheme will work, she moves forward boldly. This is a girl who writes a letter to her mother's second cousin, whom she has never met, a man who her mother barely knows, and invites herself to stay at his house for the summer. The letter she writes is a riot, too, making me giggle. Here is an excerpt:
"At the end of the day, my mother returns home to relieve her talented thirteen-year-old daughter of the duties of feeding and harshly disciplining her "special" son. On most days, my brother entertains himself by flushing the toilet repeatedly, but at other times he requires constant supervision if we are to prevent him from drinking all the household cleansers under the sink." - Chapter 2
Her brother isn't actually "special" - Gilda simply has a habit of turning the mundane events of her life into melodramas. She would consider it more exaggeration for the sake of story than outright lying (though her hard-working brother would likely not agree).
Gilda breathes life into the stuffy Splinter household, and especially livens up her depressed cousin Juliet. Gilda dresses in outlandish costumes, conducts a seance, accuses the staid Mr. Splinter of laundering money for the Mafia, and, of course, solves the mystery concerning Aunt Melanie.
The format of this book is somewhat unusual. Told in the third person, the viewpoint alternates between Gilda and Juliet, with occasional glimpses at the thoughts of Lester and his assistant, Summer. Samples of Gilda's writing are interspersed, however, giving us a partial first-person perspective. All of Gilda's writing is typed on her father's old typewriter, and set off in a special font in the text to enhance this impression. These samples include journal entries, letters, progress reports, and novels. Most of the time this shifting viewpoint works well, but I did find it occasionally heavy-handed (when we get Juliet's opinion of Gilda, for example, some of Gilda's traits seem to be unnecessarily re-described). But I think that the interspersing of Gilda's own writing into the text adds visual interest and authenticity, and will make the book more appealing to reluctant readers.
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator is somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not ghosts exist and communicate with the living. Gilda and Juliet are inclined to believe that they do, and the housekeeper Rosa is certain of it, though Lester Splinter remains unconvinced. Strange events certainly occur, and strongly suggest paranormal phenomena, but alternative explanations exist, too. The skeptical reader will be able to draw his or her own conclusions.
Parts of the story might be a bit too dark for younger kids (Melanie's suicide, Juliet's suicidal musings, Gilda's sadness over her father's death, and a very creepy locked-up tower). Gilda's optimistic attitude does a lot to balance this out, however. All in all, I found Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator just plain fun. Oh, I cringed here and there when Gilda went overboard. But I think that kids will love that about her. And it's wonderful to see a book about a strong-willed girl who doesn't particularly care what other people think about her, and does what she thinks is right. I look forward to reading her next adventure (Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake).
Book: Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Author: Jennifer Allison
Publisher: Dutton Sleuth
Original Publication Date: July, 2005
Age Range: 10-14
Source of Book: Bought it with my Amazon points
Other Blog Reviews: Outside of a Cat, Booktopia, and Your Friendly Neighborhood Book Reviews. See reviews of the sequel at ReadingYA: Readers' Rants and Chasing Ray.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.