Nancy Drew: mystery ace with a perfect boyfriend, nice friends and a widowed dad. Only Sherry has a most unusual sidekick, her police detective mother. Sounds lame? Far from it. Sherry’s mom is a ghost!
Sherry summons her mother with coffee, her token scent. [That's Barrie's favorite coffee mug pictured to the left.] Every ghost has a distinctive odor, a useful plot devise for invisible characters. One ghost reeks of dirty socks, another of cinnamon buns. It’s the familiar that makes the extraordinary feel (smell?) real.
Snappy writing and humor saves the story from sentimentality. Check out Sherry’s stepmother:
“Living with The Ruler is no Laffy Taffy. It’s like when you try on those strung-together shoes at Target. You can’t take big steps; you definitely can’t run; you can’t really tell how you feel about the footwear. Well, with the gazillion rules in our house, I only get to take teeny-tiny steps that don’t include TV on weekdays, MySpace anytime or unlimited texting. I won’t even start ragging on the health food I’m forced to eat.”Talk about tough love, in "i so don’t do spooky" Sherry has to put aside her resentment and save the Ruler. Her stepmother has a stalker. Yikes! The mystery is spooky without being too scary for younger readers. There is a sweet innocence to it that feels classic, but all the pop culture references make it sound up-to-date. The Phoenix, Arizona setting is really fun.
Sherry is a real 13-year-old to a fault. She’s obsessed with shopping and prone to name-calling (eg. "Nerdy Nick.") Personally, I don’t like seeing this in children’s fiction. Although true to life, it reinforces stereotypes. Still, Sherry redeems herself by choosing mysteries over flirting, and kindness over selfishness. She’s a strong heroine, not a victim. Sherry grows a bit in this second book, realizing her faults.
Fans of "i so don’t do mysteries" will love "i so don’t do spooky." It has a similar feel, but the mystery holds together better. Even though "spooky" is full of ghosts, it’s more believable. The dead-grandfather-now-a-bird plays a smaller role. I’m hoping he’ll fly away in the next book, so we can focus more on the Ghost Academy. Reincarnation muddies this narrative. It’s just a little quibble about an otherwise strong storyline.
Barrie’s writing is fresh, funny and fast-paced. I can see this series becoming really popular with 8-12 year old girls, especially with kids who don’t usually like books. Barrie makes reading fun and easy without talking down. She gets kids and ghosts!
My Interview of Barrie Summy
(author photo by Ziegler Photography)
Barrrie Summy: Well, actually it’s not my theory; it was my parents’. And, to be honest, I didn’t find it much fun when I was a kid! The Meat and Potato and Dessert Rule went like this: You could read as many Meat and Potato books in a row as you wanted. To read a Dessert book, you had to read at least one Meat and Potato book first. Much, to my chagrin, Nancy Drew fell into the Dessert book category.
Sarah: Who are your favorite authors?
Barrie: E.L. Konigsburg, Gordon Korman, Judy Blume, Jerry Spinelli, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Elinor Lipman, Anita Shreve. (This list is in no particular order. And it’s a mere drop in the bucket.)
Sarah: Where did you get the inspiration for the Sherry and ghost-mother detective team?
Barrie: I have absolutely no idea. Seriously. I originally wrote "i so don't do mysteries" as a Nancy Drew with all the guidelines that entails. When I revamped the book for Sherry and could ditch the guidelines, my imagination went wild and crazy. Also, there's a part of me that would like to be in Sherry's shoes and having an unexpected reunion with my mother and the chance to solve a mystery together.
Sarah: How is writing a series different from writing a single freestanding novel?
Barrie: With a series, you get to know the characters super well. And you get a chance to see what they’ll do in variety of situations. I think, also, you have to work a little harder at keeping it fresh for the reader.
Sarah: Over the course of the series, do you see Sherry staying a constant character, like Nancy Drew, or are you planning to have her mature, like Harry Potter?
Barrie: Originally, I'd planned to have Sherry remain a constant character. However, she insists on growing up a little in each book. In some books, she grows up more than in others. I'm currently writing the fourth book, "i so don't do famous," and I can already tell she's going to make some big connections and come more into herself. It's exciting and a little like watching one of my own children start putting it all together. So, to answer your question, I'm basically, I'm just following Sherry's lead.
Sarah: What is your advice for debut authors?
Barrie: Enjoy the ride. You only debut once.
Sarah: What motivated you to start the blogger book review club?
Barrie: I love blog round-ups. I especially love regularly-scheduled blog round-ups. I love book recommendations. I especially love positive book recommendations. Marry all that together and, voila, our monthly Book Review Club!
Disclosure: Delacorte Press of Random House sent me the Advanced Reader’s Copy of "i so don’t do spooky." Barrie and I are blog buddies, but, hello FTC, I reviewed this book just the way I wanted.
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Blog Watch: interesting discussion on career and family @ A Cuban in London, focusing on the changing role of fathers. Cynthia @ Catching Days captured the change of seasons in song, image and prose. Prairie Rose's Garden explained the love of gardening. Reverie Book Reviews, The Story Siren and author Kami Garcia are helping a low income community in Virginia build a library; they need gently used children's books. I've just sent a box of picture books etc.