Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit was my first read for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. And it was an excellent start. School Spirit is the first in a series (I certainly hope) about a thirteen-year-old girl named Kat who discovers that she can "see dead people." Her mother is a medium, so this is not entirely surprising for Kat, but she's not sure that she wants to be something as uncool as a medium herself. After all, she's trying to fit in at middle school. Having books drop off of the library shelves at her feet, and flutter open, is not the way to make that happen.
Kat has a wonderful, caring, quirky mother. As the book progresses she acquires a contradictory but completely loyal best friend named Jac, an apparently psychic dog named Max, and a venomous enemy named Brooklyn. Jac is a particularly strong character, a master cello player with a secret, and a delightfully advanced vocabulary. Kat herself, despite being, you know, a medium, is refreshingly ordinary, with a bit of a new age/raised by hippies slant. The plot revolves around the ghost of a long-dead high school girl who appears to Kat, and turns out to have a connection to Jac's music teacher. This is set against a backdrop of the ordinary shark tank that is middle school. It's a combination that works surprisingly well. Here are a few examples, to give you a feel for the book:
"The undead are ruining my life. I blame my mother." (Chapter 1)
Is that an excellent first paragraph for a tween book, or what?
"Even on the best of days, my house, one of those creaky old Victorian things, was kind of like the Museum of Lost Hippie Artifacts. It was in need of a paint job, smelled of something between incense and old books, and was decorated in the Tibetan knickknack style." (Chapter 2)
I love the descriptiveness here. I can see and smell this house, and Elizabeth Cody Kimmel accomplished that in two sentences. Kat also has a delightful irreverence in regards to spirits.
"Spirits are like babies. They scream and howl when they need something, and they'll go right on doing it until you fix their problem." (Chapter 4)
"Great! Because the only thing more fun than a haunted library is the dark subbasement under the library, right?" (Chapter 11)
Fun stuff! Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit brings to mind Meg Cabot's Mediator series, but is aimed at a younger audience. Though set in middle school, I think it will interest kids nine and up - there are no distracting romantic sub-plots, and the friendship between Kat and Jac should have universal resonance. Although the main characters are girls, I think that it's a boy-friendly book, too. There are plenty of scary/spooky manifestations, and apart from a few references to clothes, there's no girly stuff to be off-putting.
There are quite a few pop-cultural references (to American Idol and the like), and I actually thought that those were a mistake. They're a bit distracting, and I think that they'll make the book feel a bit dated in five years. But perhaps that's just me, wanting the book to feel like something I could have read when I was ten. That minor quibble aside, I thought that School Spirit was a fun, engaging read, excellent for a wide range of readers, ages nine and up. I recommend that elementary school and middle school librarians order up copies now. The book was just released this week.
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Date: June 1, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Any quotes are from the advance copy, and may not reflect the final printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: Fuse #8
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.