Our heroine is Kat, a typical thirteen-year-old, trying to fit in, to find her way as painlessly as possible through the social minefield that is middle school. She adores her mother, who is compassionate and caring with a fun sense of humor. There's just one tiny, massively embarrassing problem: her mother is a medium (and not, Kat tells us, "the kind that fits between small and large").
Having a mother who sees and talks with spirits is not exactly something that Kat wants people at school to know about, but when a classmate comes over to work on a project while Kat's mom is conducting a session down the hall, the sudden drops in temperature, bizarre sounds and odors have the terrified girl fleeing from the house. It would appear that Kat's secret is out. What would they think if they knew that Kat had recently started seeing spirits, too? She hasn't even been able to bring herself to tell her own mother about that yet.
Luckily, just when it seems she'll be an outcast for life, she makes friends with Jac, a new girl to the school who's always lugging around an enormous cello. Jac is unusual in that she is not caught up in needing approval from her classmates. She is outspoken and funny - but what will she think when she finds out about Kat? When the two girls are in the school library and an old yearbook flies from the shelf onto their reading table, its pages eerily fluttering open to a certain spot, Kat realizes that it's time to admit to her abilities - particularly when the diaphanous figure of a girl their age appears, and she needs their help.
Kat's middle-school, complete with its snarky popular girls, group projects and cafeteria politics, is an effective backdrop for this story about friendship and unsettled spirits. While the tale is often humorous in tone, there are deliciously creepy descriptions with effective sensory details:
I was getting that feeling again. The indescribable feeling that probably has thirty words for it in some other language but not one single word in English to indicate my scalp beginning to prickle, my heart pounding, the blood rushing to my face, and my hands involuntarily reaching out in front of me, to feel for something or keep something away, I'm not sure which. The air grew charged, the way it feels when you walk by a waterfall. The silence grew louder, like it might suck the dark clear out of the room.These are clearly not tame ghosts. And when Kat feels a particular malignant presence, she realizes that, although she may not think her new-found abilities are the "gift" that her mother calls them, possessing those abilities just might mean accepting responsibility for them, no matter how unwilling she might be.
The story examines those moments children experience as they grow up when they examine their parents' expectations for them and evaluate those expectations. Just whose dreams are these, anyway? Are they willing to work for those dreams? How much are they willing to sacrifice, particularly if the dream is not their own?
Kat is a thoroughly likable character, and her developing friendship with Jac is wonderfully portrayed. I particularly enjoyed Kat's relationship with her mother, but even minor characters offer some surprises. This is an exciting, funny, moving tale that I will certainly be recommending to young readers at my library. Once I get it back from my 10-year-old daughter, that is, who is enjoying it immensely. The second book in this series, Scaredy Kat, was released in February, and a third is due to be published later this year.
Books in the Suddenly Supernatural series:
1. School Spirit
2. Scaredy Kat
3. Unhappy Medium (forthcoming)
School Spirit (#1 in the Suddenly Supernatural series) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (Little, Brown and Co., 2008)
Also reviewed at:
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "Fun stuff! Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit brings to mind Meg Cabot's Mediator series, but is aimed at a younger audience."
PikeAlicious Books: "I liked Kat because she did not shy away from expressing her thoughts, even if they were uncomfortable. I also enjoyed Jac as the odd, outspoken best friend."