Saturday, May 30, 2009

YA Weekend

Gilda Joyce: The Dead Drop by Jennifer Allison: This is the fourth in an entertaining mystery/paranormal series for the 9-12 crowd, featuring Gilda Joyce, who is practicing for her chosen career as a "psychic investigator." I've enjoyed this series, and the fourth is an excellent entry. Plan on significant suspension of disbelief, and not from the ghost trying to communicate with Gilda: Gilda's mother lets not-quite-fifteen Gilda go off and live in Washington, DC for a summer to intern at the International Spy Museum. Mmmhmmm. And Gilda is sharing an apartment with a twentysomething. Mmmmhmmm. But if you just accept that and settle into the gripping ghost story and more hilarious internship story, this is a fun, fun read, and the strongest plot in the series.

Anyone following Gilda's adventures, with her penchant for wacky disguises and her handbooks on psychic investigation and spying, will understand why she's so excited about her Spy Museum internship. She ends up in charge of a group of children attending "Spy Camp," teaching them important spy skills like detecting lies, concocting a good cover story, and playing Wigball. A Russian spy appears to be haunting the museum (and Gilda's dreams), and Gilda is led by a dream of Abraham Lincoln to a "dead drop," a location where spies leave messages for their handlers. Cold War history, double-agent intrigue, and the mysterious Russians make this a blast to read, and the mystery is very well done. Gilda's work with the Spy Camp children is hilarious, and while I could have done without the brief scenes from the point of view of the "psychic spy," the surprise appearance of a new character near the end made them much more tolerable. I loved the surprise character! This could be read alone, but for maximum enjoyment, I'd read the first three books before picking this one up, just to watch Gilda's skills develop.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake and Gilda Joyce: The Ghost Sonata

Oh. My. Gods by Tera Lynn Childs: This book was rather disappointing for me, as the premise (high school girl whisked off to live in Greece and attend a special school for descendants of Greek gods) sounded great. The execution didn't live up to the promise. There are many ways to set up this sort of book. You can have your character encounter the paranormal out in the normal world, making it impossible for him to deny the unbelievable (Percy Jackson), you can have a messenger give him the information, which is backed up by past strange experiences that are now explained (Harry Potter), etc. Childs chooses the weakest setup I can imagine. We barely meet Phoebe in her normal life before her mother appears with a fiance and announces that the family is moving to Greece to live with him. Phoebe will attend the only school on the remote island. On the ferry ride to the island, Phoebe's mother reveals the truth about the school: it was established to educated the children of gods. Phoebe's response is strange; she thinks this is crazy, but is inclined to believe her mother and new stepfather, who provide proof. If something strange had happened at Phoebe's old school, or if we had simply met Phoebe while she was already on the island, I would have been drawn into the story much more readily. As it was, I didn't feel particularly engaged until the Academy life is in full swing. There really isn't much Greek mythology in this one. I really thought the Percy Jackson series did a much better job of incorporating the Greek myths and making them fresh. In Oh. My. Gods, we just have a description of the various cliques, which are all along ancestor lines (so the Ares kids are the jocks, etc.). Phoebe, as a nothos (or normal, non-divine person), is an outcast, but is befriended by two students there who don't care about her humble origins. Phoebe is a runner, and she tries out for the track team at the Academy, and falls for a jerk (I can't tell you how much I hate this plotline in YA books), while struggling to keep her place on the track team.

There's really too much going on here, and if the set-up had been different, it would have been easier for me to enjoy the story. As it is, Phoebe is dealing with 1. leaving her California friends thousands of miles away and being unable to tell them about the island's secret, 2. a new stepfather who is also her headmaster, 3. a wicked step-sister with supernatural powers, 4. the sudden marriage of her mother, 5. isolation at her new school, where most students hate or ignore her, 6. keeping up her grades so she and her California friends can all go to USC together, and 7. awareness of supernatural forces. That's a lot to balance, and I didn't really find the ties to her California friends all that interesting (especially when described in IM transcripts). This was a cute summer read, but I had been hoping for more. I am mildly interested in reading the follow-up, Goddess Boot Camp, but I won't rush to buy it in hardcover.

1 comment:

Lenore said...

I agree with all your OH.MY.GODS criticism, but somehow, I still really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the sequel. Sometimes it happens that way ;)