Wednesday, December 2, 2009

i so don't do spooky by Barrie Summy: review & interview

Not only is Barrie Summy the host of our monthly book review club, she is also a talented children's author. “i so don’t do spooky” is the second installment in her mystery series to be released December 8th, 2009.

On the surface Sherry Holmes Baldwin sounds a lot like 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.

Author Barrie Summy at age 16  

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)

Sarah Laurence: You have a fun theory about dessert books – can you explain it?

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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@Barrie Summy

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.


Thao said...

Thanks for the reviews and lovely interview too. Barrie looked so cute when she was 16 : )

TBM said...

I love Barrie Summy's blog (and her book)! She has a great sense of fun, doesn't she? Thanks for the interview, Sarah. I loved the "Dessert Book" bit :-)

David Cranmer said...

What a terrific post. Excellent interview and what a great picture of the writer as a teen.

I'm proud to say I have a first edition signed copy of I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES but more importantly it is a great, great read.

And as soon as I hit the States again I will purchase SPOOKY.

Rosaria Williams said...

Love your reviews. You get to the heart of the story, then survey the author for more insights.

p.s. adding a blog-watch is a great touch too.

A Cuban In London said...

Enjoy the ride. You only debut once.

Quite right. Loved the review and the interview. This had me frowning like mad:

'Sherry’s mom is a ghost!'

It looks like a highly imaginative book with no fears of tags or labels. Many thanks for your review.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thao, thank you! I enjoyed your review too.

JAPRA, I’m a fan of Barrie’s blog too and her humor shines in her books as well.

David, thanks for adding your mini-review to mine. I enjoyed your book reviews on your blog too.

Lakeviewer, that’s the best compliment as that is what I aim to do. Thank you!

ACIL, Barrie has imagination to spare.

All, I’m going offline for a bit, but I will come visit your blogs as soon as I can.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I always love all the 'extra features' in your reviews! And I loved i so don't do mysteries, so I have no doubt that this next installment will be excellent as well.

And I think I may start using that M&P vs. Dessert book argument with my boys...

Ellen Booraem said...

SPOOKY sounds like so much fun! Can't wait to get my hands on it.

Thanks for the interview, too...great package for the prospective reader.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Lovely post. I wish I were a teen now. So much more to read.

Keri Mikulski said...

Love the post, interview, and pics!! :) Barrie was and still is a cutie. :)

Can't wait to pick up Barrie's latest.

Bee said...

The little details make this special. I really enjoyed seeing that row of Nancy Drew books and Barrie's favorite mug, and learning that each ghost has a unique smell! I bought Barrie's first book for my girls last year and they really enjoyed it. How wonderful that there is a series in development!

I don't know how Barrie finds time to blog, too, but I'm so glad that she does. Charming interview; it adds a lot to your review.

Rose said...

Thank you so much for this review, Sarah! I don't have anyone in the family at this stage of reading yet, but Barrie's books do sound like fun. I was especially excited to read this interview with Barrie, having participated in the book review club occasionally. It's interesting to read more about how she developed this character and her plans for Sherry's future.

I had planned to participate this month, but Thanksgiving festivities put a big dent in my time. Surely by January things will slow down:) Thanks so much for the link love!

Jan said...

Enjoyed this posting very much, the Reviews and Interview, particularly as only on Tuesday I was with a fabulous UK writer ( Adele Geras) who also writes marvellously for children.
See her on my blog!

Donna said...

Fun interview to read! Her book looks like a fun read too. I like mysteries and ghosts and young adult fiction, so I'll add this to my list of books to read. Thanks for the recommendation!

cynthia newberry martin said...

I agree with Bee that it's the details that make this post and Spooky so interesting--the row of Nancy Drew books made me want to take a picture of all my Bobbsey Twin books; that the ghosts are conjured up by and/or have a distinctive smell is brilliant (as you pointed out re invisible characters); and that picture of Barrie at 16 looks so familiar (I bet I have one of me in that exact spot with the same hair with the same tint to the photo.) I also enjoyed learning from your interview that Barrie had no idea how she came up with the idea for this story.

I enjoyed your FTC disclaimer and thanks so much for the mention in your Blog Watch of the post I did on the seasons. I appreciate it.

Stacy Nyikos said...

I loved loved loved her first installment in the series. Can't wait to get the second!

Jenn Jilks said...

What a fun idea! Great photos, great review.

Elizabeth said...

I have been a blog buddy of Barrie for quite a while and am really looking forward to reading this exciting tale.
You write so well about books both adult and YA .
You always make me want to read them.
Hope you are well and cheerful and not too cold in Maine.

Dawn Maria said...

What a fun interview! I really was interested in Barrie's response about whether or not her character would evolve through the series. As a girl, I loved the constancy of Nancy Drew's world. As an adult, I've also loved the evolution of Harry Potter. I've never thought about that concept before.

I would have gone crazy when I was teen to have as many great book choices then as kids do today. It's very exciting to see YA so healthy and alive!

cynthia newberry martin said...

I agree, Dawn. I hadn't thought about that difference either--that Nancy Drew stays the same age and Harry Potter ages. Very interesting. I'm not sure that an author could "get away" with a character not aging these days. But I don't read a lot of YA.

Sarah Laurence said...

All, sorry to be so slow to respond to your thoughtful comments. I was out of town looking after a loved one in the hospital, but all is better now.

Alyssa, Ellen, Patti, and Keri, thank you! I enjoyed your book reviews too. And Patti I agree about YA offering so much more to teens now. Many adults (like me) enjoy reading it too.

Bee, I used to buy one Nancy Drew a month with my book allowance as a child and saved them for my future daughter. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Barrie’s series became as popular with the next generation?

Rose, the interview was a fun opportunity to get to know Barrie better myself and get a preview on how her series will evolve. I hope you join the book review club again as I do enjoy your posts.

Jan, it was good to hear about another children’s author on your blog too.

Donna, I very much enjoyed reading Barrie’s books, but they are intended for a younger audience with less crossover appeal to adults than in upper young adult fiction. Still, a good book is good reading. It’s fun to read a book by someone you know too.

Cynthia, yes, the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys too. The photo of teenaged Barrie made me think we would have been friends back then too. It all brings us back to the 70’s. I wonder if we would have been blogging back then if the technology existed.

Stacy, thanks for adding your endorsement to Barrie’s first book. I enjoyed your review.

Jenn, thank you! I enjoyed reading your mystery review too.

Elizabeth, I enjoyed your MG novel too. Cold is good in Maine – it means snow instead of rain or sleet. I should get out with the dog soon before it shifts.

DM, what an interesting observation that a constant character was more appealing to you as a child. Growing up I loved consistent Nancy, but I also enjoyed growing up with Anne of Green Gables over her years. I could see myself going back to read the Anne books, but not my Nancy Drews. You’re making me wonder if maturation in a children’s book is what allows it to crossover to an adult audience. Most people point to the popularity of Harry Potter in showing that we adults never grow up, but you are making an interesting opposite claim. Another genre you might enjoy would be YA crossover books (so called coming of age novels published as adult literary fiction.) I’ve labeled a few of them under my reviews in my sidebar. Great comment!

Cynthia, it was fun to read your reaction to Dawn Marie’s intriguing comment. Barrie’s series, Nancy Drew and Harry Potter (HP is sometimes classified as YA too) are all considered middle grade fiction; that is written for kids 8-12. Frequently those books, especially on the younger end, focus on consistent characters that mature only a bit like in Barrie’s series. Young adult is geared towards 12-17 and focuses on coming of age stories so you do see more change and maturation. Young Adult has expanded exponentially in the past 10 years or so, spurred on by the huge success of Harry Potter and Twilight. There are some terrific new YA authors with adult crossover appeal too. I especially enjoy books that could go either way.

Sarahlynn said...

Excellent! I know just the niece for the first Sherry Holmes mysteries this Christmas.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Found your blog via Barrie's. This is a thoughtful, honest and interesting review and interview. I'm making myself a follower; your photos are gorgeous.

Sarah Laurence said...

Sarahlynn, if she like the first one, you have a bunch more gifts lined up since Barrie writing #4. So nice that this connection was made!

Tricia, welcome to my blog and thank you! I enjoyed your blog too. It’s so nice to connect through Barrie.

Nicole J C said...

i love these books im addicted hope u make more! From Nicole J C