Plot summary: When the Volniks inherit an old castle on an island off the coast of Scotland they decide to visit to see if there’s anything useful that they can send to their home in Toronto, Canada. After returning home they discover that they took more than a few pieces of furniture from Scotland: an old, mischievous spirit called a boggart was living in the castle, and was transported in an old desk to the Volniks’ home! Strange things begin happening and twelve-year-old Emily Volnik and her ten-year-old brother Jessup are getting the blame. How can they convince their parents that they didn’t cause furniture to fly through the air or for a bucket of water to drench their mother? Apparently the boggart loves nothing more than to play pranks on the humans around him, and he’s loving all the modern technology at his hands, especially electricity. At first, Emily and Jessup aren’t sure what to make of the strange spirit, but when one his practical jokes lands Emily in the hospital, it’s clear that he belongs back home in Scotland. Will Emily and Jessup be able to return the boggart to the old castle, or is he stuck in Toronto forever?
Review: This fun and clever story breezily combines slapstick humor with English folklore for a unique tale that is sure to delight readers. Tweens may not be familiar with a boggart, a spirit similar to a poltergeist but less sinister, and will enjoy his goofy antics. Towards the middle of the story, the boggart actually becomes quite a likable character, even if he makes mistakes here and there. One of the darker parts of the story is a psychologist named Dr. Stigmore. Dr. Stigmore believes that Emily is manifesting the paranormal activities and believes she should be placed in a mental institution. Tweens will pick up on this nod to the over-medication of children that perpetuates society, as well as stifling the imaginary beings that often accompany childhood. The mood of the story is very light, however, despite these more subtle themes. Overall a charming novel with a lesson in folklore mixed in.
Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles: The Borrowers by Mary Norton.
Personal thoughts: I love stories that combine folkloric elements with a modern plot, so The Boggart was right up my alley! Prior to reading the novel, I had never heard of a boggart, but did quite a bit of research into the concept afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if the story sparked a similar interest in tweens, making this title an excellent way to start a discussion about English fairy tales, or other creatures from different cultures.
Themes: Spirits, Scotland, poltergeists, mental health.
Awards/Reviews: Young Reader’s Choice Award nominee, positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
Series Information: The Boggart has a sequel, The Boggart and the Monster, published in 1997 by Susan Cooper.
Emily Volnik – Twelve-year-old girl from Toronto, Canada. She is blamed for many of the pranks pulled by the boggart and, eventually, a psychologist, Dr. Stigmore, thinks she should be institutionalized.
Jessup Volnik – Ten-year-old genius brother of Emily. He is a computer programmer and these skills eventually come in handy when dealing with the boggart.
Maggie Volnik – Mother of Emily and Jessup who blames the activities of the boggart on her children.
Robert Volnik – Father of Emily and Jessup who also blames his children for the activities of the boggart, but is not as apt to want Emily institutionalized as her mother.
Tommy Cameron – Thirteen-year-old resident of the Scottish island where the boggart was living. At first he doesn’t tell Emily and Jessup about the boggart, but eventually he helps them.
Dr. William Stigmore – A cruel parapsychologist who believes Emily is manifesting her teenage angst in the form of a poltergeist that is responsible for the boggart’s activities.
Annotation: What’s more strange: inheriting an old Scottish castle inhabited by a mischievous spirit called a boggart or accidentally bringing that spirit home with you? Emily and Jessup Volnik are about to find out what happens when an ancient spirit meets a modern city.