CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 16. . . .December 19, 2014
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2014.
268 pp., trade pbk., epub & mobi, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-927855-09-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927855-10-2 (epub), ISBN 978-1-927855-11-9 (mobi).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
I should have said something. Should have acknowledged him, but I suddenly realized, he was trapped in my bedroom. Serge of the Constant Insult and Bullying was prisoner to an invisible force. He was contained in the room of the one person he hated most in the whole world, and it struck me as funny. Hilarious. Karma was a bitch, but she had a dark sense of humour and I was laughing at the punchline. Let the bastard rot in my room. What did I care, there were three or four other rooms I could use. I went to the door.
“Maggie! C’mon, fun’s fun but this is stupid.”
My fingers made contact with the handle but it didn’t do anything to me. I opened the door and stepped out. Then I went back in.
“I knew you couldn’t do it,” he said, relief flooding his words. He stood and shoved his feet into his sneakers.
Oh, I was doing it, all right. I grabbed the blanket by the door and left.
Dad followed me into the living room, a dishtowel in hand. He frowned. “Sleeping down here?”
“Figure it’ll be more peaceful.”
He didn’t question me, except to ask, “You sure everything’s okay?”
I thought of Serge trapped in my room and grinned. “Peachy-keen.”
“Okay.” He turned and went back to the kitchen.
That’s when I noticed Serge standing behind him, looking as confused as I felt.
“What was that?” He looked down at his hands. His gaze went back up the stairs. “What the --”
And then it hit me. Serge wasn’t bonded to the room.
He was bonded to me.
Wherever I went, he’d go.
Man. Karma really was a bitch.
Maggie is a pretty ordinary 17-year-old high school student who achieves good grades, has some close girlfriends and develops a gigantic crush on the new guy who recently moved to town. And, by the way, she is also a sort of 'spirit guardian' who transitions the dead from this earthly realm to whatever is next for them.
When Maggie discovers the murdered body of Serge Popov, a bully who has joyfully intimidated her for years, it doesn’t really surprise her that she sees his spirit and is called upon to help him cross over. However, it appears that for some reason Serge’s spirit is trapped, and, until Maggie can solve the mystery of his death and reconcile what is holding his spirit on earth, he will never be able to transition. Maggie may have to deal with more than she intends to, however, since uncovering the secrets around Serge’s death – and his life – puts her in unexpected danger.
Any novel which has what appears to be a dead body in the trunk of the protagonist’s car on the very first page is bound to be a page-turner. Deen immediately grabs readers who love a mystery and want to solve the case. Readers soon realize that Maggie also has the gift of seeing spirits and helping them transition after death so the element of fantasy enters the novel as well. The two genres mesh very well throughout the book, although the fantastic takes over as events become more and more mystical and less rational by the end of the story. Readers encounter spirits, auras and all kinds of interesting phenomena as the story progresses.
Maggie, the main character, is believable and likeable, and Deen manages to make her psychic gift seem quite normal. She is torn between hating the living Serge for all of the grief he caused her and feeling sorry for the spirit Serge who, we find out, has had a miserable childhood at the hands of unloving and uncaring parents. Like Maggie, readers come to understand - if not like - the character of Serge. There is some interesting philosophy in the novel about what he may have to do in order to reconcile what happened when he was alive and move into another dimension. As well, there is a sense of humour in the book. After all, conversations with spirits do lead to some comical misunderstandings!
Rev. and Mrs. Popov, Serge’s parents, are evil incarnate, and the irony of Serge’s father being considered a religious and, therefore, righteous man will not be lost on readers. Why does Rev. Popov have such a hold over his wife and son? Why does neither of them seek to break away from what is obviously a miserable situation?
Maggie’s father is a loving and caring parent who understands his daughter’s gift and the pressure it often puts on her. His girlfriend, Nancy, is the sheriff, and she finds herself torn between supporting Maggie as much as possible while still upholding the law. Only later in the novel does Nancy understand Maggie’s gift and its implications.
Another main character who deserves mention is Craig, the handsome and athletic guy who has recently moved to town and who, to Maggie’s great surprise, becomes just as attracted to Maggie as she is to him. Why this sudden relationship, readers may ask. Is there more to Craig than what we see on the surface? Is he really what he pretends to be?
Mystery fans will enjoy the whodunit quality of this novel and will eventually find out all of the details. Deen is able to weave a plot which is complex enough to keep readers guessing right until the end. As mentioned before, as the book progresses, it moves more and more to the realm of fantasy. The final chapters include evil spirits, demented auras, inexplicable explosions, a magic cylinder/circle and an ancient Egyptian.
Perhaps Natasha Deen has not grown up to be the superhero of her childhood dreams, but she is an award-winning Canadian writer for young adults who has been published in several genres, and this mix of mystery and fantasy in Guardian is unusual, perhaps, but effective.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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