Author: Jennifer Allison. Release date: 2006. Publisher: Puffin. ISBN: 9780142406984.
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: Grades 5-7
Similar titles: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene.
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.
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.
Gilda Joyce – A thirteen-year-old self-proclaimed “psychic detective” from Detroit, Michigan. Her father passed away two years before from cancer, and she lives with her mother and brother. Seeking adventure, she decides to visit her long-long relatives in San Francisco for the summer.
Juliet Splinter – Gilda’s thirteen-year-old cousin and daughter of Lester Splinter from San Francisco, California. Her parents divorced when she was young and she lived with her mother in San Diego until she was ten. She is depressed and contemplates suicide. She believes she is haunted by the ghost of her aunt, Melanie.
Lester Splinter – Gilda’s distant uncle and father of Juliet. He is an accountant in San Francisco and is a very private person, displaying little to no emotion. He is strict with Juliet and does not show her much affection. He’s not very friendly with Gilda when she arrives to San Francisco.
Summer – Lester Splinter’s ditzy assistant. She is responsible for Gilda visiting San Francisco.
Rosa – Lester and Juliet’s housekeeper. She is very friendly with Gilda and shares that she has seen many ghosts in the Splinter mansion.
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!