Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator Book Review

Author: Jennifer Allison. Release date: 2006. Publisher: Puffin. ISBN: 9780142406984.

Annotation: Self-proclaimed “psychic investigator,” thirteen-year-old Gilda Joyce decides to visit her long lost uncle and his daughter in San Francisco. When she arrives, Gilda discovers an intriguing secret: her relative’s mansion is haunted!

Personal thoughts: I was surprised by how engrossing I found this novel. I was immediately aware of the underlying elements of the story, Gilda’s sadness over her father’s death, her strained family situation with her overworked mother and distant brother, and the coldness between Mr. Splinter and Juliet. The family relationships were quite heartbreaking at times. Allison does a wonderful job, however, of lightening the mood with Gilda’s antics. Gilda is a very likable heroine and the mystery she and Juliet solve is actually quite interesting. I found myself feeling “creeped out” at times from the antics of the ghost of Aunt Melanie. Overall, this is a very enjoyable novel both for adults and tweens.
Plot summary: Gilda Joyce lives a life of glamour and intrigue in Detroit, Michigan. At least she imagines she does. As a self-described “psychic investigator,” Gilda strives to use her natural abilities to solve mysteries of the paranormal, among her many other projects. When her eight-grade year ends, Gilda is worried her summer won’t be as exciting as she’d hoped after her best friend goes away to camp. Determined  to have an adventure, Gilda contacts a distant relative, Mr. Splinter, in San Francisco and invites herself to stay for the summer. After a mis-communication with Mr. Splinter’s ditzy assistant, Gilda is actually asked to come keep Mr. Splinter’s daughter, Juliet, company over the summer. Gilda arrives in San Francisco and soon discovers that the Splinters are living in a house haunted by the ghost of Mr. Splinter’s sister, Melanie, who committed suicide years before. Gilda and Juliet become friends, and are determined to solve the mystery of Melanie’s death. What will Gilda’s psychic investigations uncover?
Review: This fun and clever novel not only delivers an entertaining and sometimes spooky storyline, but also a message that won’t be lost on young readers. Gilda Joyce makes for an interesting and somewhat complex heroine. She is confident, blunt and clever, but there is a layer of sadness over the death of her father two years earlier. Throughout Gilda’s bumbling psychic investigating, it’s clear that she is using the mysteries as a means of working through his death. Juliet, Mr. Splinter’s anti-social, sickly daughter, is also an interesting character for young readers. At the outset of the novel, Juliet is contemplating suicide, and she is obviously wrestling with some inner turmoil of her own. The relationship between Gilda, Juliet and Mr. Splinter is very interesting, and is reminiscent of Mary, Colin and Mr. Craven in Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Gilda’s adventures are merely a vehicle for what is actually a very relevant and touching story about families, communication and friendship.  
Genre: Fiction/ Mystery
Reading level: Grade 5+
Similar titles: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene.
Themes: Death, grief, family, communication, friendship.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Series Information: Part of Jennifer Allison’s Gilda Joyce series.
Discussion Questions:
- Why do you think Gilda wants to be a psychic investigator?
- Do you think her father's death plays a role in why she wants to be a psychic investigator?
- Do you think Mr. Splinter and Juliet have a good relationship? Why or why not?
- Do you think Gilda's presence in their house makes the relationship between Mr. Splinter and Juliet better or worse?
- Do you think Juliet is really being haunted by the ghost of her Aunt Melanie? Why or why not?

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