When 12-year-old Lilah Bloom is struck by lightning at her mom’s wedding, she discovers she has a new skill: she can hear dead people. They are everywhere, and they are verbose. Her Bubby is one of the most opinionated ghosts, and she wants Lilah to help her get Lilah’s dad dating again. All of this means Lilah must navigate the stress of seventh grade while also dealing with chatty ghosts–and somehow, she’ll have to try to work up the courage to talk to her crush, Andrew Finkel.
Joanne Levy’s debut middle grade novel takes a premise that could be sort of frightening–being surrounding by the voices of ghosts all the time–and subverts it by making light and a little silly. Lilah’s frank voice feels authentic and is frequently very funny. The supporting characters are vivid, and there’s just a touch of romance that will appeal to readers but won’t put parents on the offense.
While it could easily fall into the trap of being too silly or too slapstick, Levy walks the line carefully and successfully. She creates a strong narrator in Lilah and allows her cultural identity and strong family ties to enhance the story, giving it a great deal of heart along with the (very real, very funny) humor.
Although it falls into the paranormal genre based on its premise alone, Levy’s book transcends its fantastical plot elements and offers some very real commentary on middle school. Lilah has to navigate all the things that a normal seventh grader has to, and she has to do it while attempting to ignore the advice and commentary of invisible ghosts. Readers will be able to relate to the real stuff happening in Lilah’s life while being entertained by the ghostly stuff, too.
This is a quick read that will work for reluctant readers. Levy never panders to her audience. A definite stand-out in the paranormal middle grade market, this is an author to watch.
Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy. Bloomsbury: 2012. Library copy.