CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 32. . . .April 20, 2018
Toronto, ON: Puffin, May, 2018.
210 pp., hardcover & EPUB, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-14-319853-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-14-319855-0 (EPUB).
Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.
Review by Susie Wilson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Do I know any Leos? Clara wondered. Then she snapped her fingers. “Paquito!” On the very first night she and Gaby had dined at his restaurant, back in August, one of the servers had pulled Paquito out of the kitchen and fastened a sparkly birthday hat to his bald head. Then she’d forced Paquito to stand in the middle of the restaurant while everyone sang him “Happy Birthday,” to his great embarrassment.
Clara pictured him in line at Sophie’s ice cream shop earlier that day, hemming and hawing over his order. Then, she wrote:
Try to be a bit more assertive this month, Leo. If there’s something on your mind, come out and say it. Be bold and decisive like the lion you are!
She paused to reread the fortune, and liked the sound of it. It sounded right. She pushed on.
Pretty soon, she’d established a system: if she didn’t know anyone with a particular sun sign, she’d make up a fortune that could apply to almost anyone. The Scorpios of KMS, for instance, would soon be embarking on a journey. The Capricorns had better study hard for an upcoming test-it wouldn’t be nearly as simple as they thought.
But if she knew someone with the sign, she’d write a fortune specifically for that person. Maeve the Gemini, for example, could expect exciting career success in her future. Clara even wrote one for Terence, who’d mentioned that he was a Sagittarius. Recalling the rattling hatchback he and Lily had driven through the Market earlier, she wrote: Transportation troubles await, Sagittarius. Now is not the time to put off fixing your ride. And while you’re at it, why not consider a haircut?
An hour later, she had twelve complete horoscopes. She edited each one carefully, since Wesley had zero tolerance for grammar errors, and then she wrote a quick email to the editor-in-chief, attached the document and hit send, crossing her fingers that Wesley would like them.
But not too much, of course. Because Clara never wanted to get stuck writing horoscopes again.
Clara Voyant is a delightful work of young-adult fiction, especially for those who are looking for something lighthearted and free of angst. Set in Toronto, with a small cast of interesting and engaging characters, it is a quick and engaging read. Clara and her mother, Gaby, who had been living with Gaby’s straightlaced mother, Elaine, are on their own for the first time. Elaine has retired and moved to Florida, leaving Gaby and Clara to find a place of their own and their own rhythm as a mother and daughter living together. Elaine was a very straightlaced, no-nonsense woman, the opposite of her daughter, Gaby, who was into horoscopes and seances and snacks with names like “Super Soothing Lavender Smoothies”, and so, when Elaine moves away, Gaby jumps at the chance to live a more unconventional life (or a life full of “woo” as Elaine would have called it). This means Clara has moved from the very typical upper-class neighbourhood of High Park to Kensington Market to live in an apartment above the herbal remedy shop where Gaby works. The change also means having to move to a new school and make new friends, on top of dealing with the extra “woo” Gaby is bringing to their lives. Clara does not believe in “woo” – horoscopes and seances and spells – but in cold hard facts. In fact, Clara wants to be a journalist.
Readers join Clara after she has settled in to her new school, Kensington Market Middle School. She has made friends, notably Maeve Healy-Lin. Maeve is very focused on the audition for the upcoming school play and is much more interested in Gaby’s potions and remedies than is Clara. They make for a delightful pairing, Clara being more uptight and Maeve more free-spirited, without one being so much the opposite of the other that their friendship seems unlikely. Maeve is also a writer for the school paper, the Kensington Middle School Gazette. The Gazette is run by Wesley Ferris, the eighth-grade editor-in-chief, who clearly has great aspirations for her career in school journalism. The Gazette is run with an iron first, so when Wesley puts Clara in charge of writing horoscopes, no matter what she believes in, Clara has to accept.
There are two parallel story lines running through Clara Voyant. One, of course, features the horoscopes Clara is now tasked with writing. Because she doesn’t believe in astrology, Clara simply writes horoscopes that she thinks would benefit people she knows and makes up something too generic not to come true for the signs that don’t correspond to anyone she knows well. The second is the investigation of the theft of KMS’s mascot, a hideous papier-mache honeybee named Buzzter. Clara wants to prove her journalistic chops writing an investigative piece into Buzzter’s theft, but she remains relegated to horoscopes as Wesley assigns coverage of the disappearance to the paper’s photographer instead of any of the reporters. Is Wesley perhaps hiding something with her obvious attempt to avoid an investigation into Buzzter’s disappearance? What about Mrs. Major, the school janitor who has been acting extra-secretive lately? Someone must know something about Buzzter’s whereabouts, and Clara is desperate to solve the case.
While trying to look in to Buzzter’s disappearance, another shocking event hits Clara – her horoscopes are coming true. Or, at least, the population of KMS certainly thinks they are. Clara is at a loss – what if her horoscopes are coming true? What if her attitude towards her mother’s “woo” has been wrong all this time? She isn’t quite sure what to think but continues to write her horoscopes and look for Buzzter and hope for the best.
Clara, of course, solves the mystery of Buzzter’s disappearance. Beyond that, there are touching moments of character development – notably a very honest conversation between Clara and Gaby where Gaby worries that sometimes she isn’t being the best mother. Wesley and Mrs. Major both evolve beyond their one-note introductions to rounded characters that the reader can both sympathize and empathize with. Clara, of course, becomes a bit more understanding of (and open to) her mother’s eccentric passions.
Clara Voyant will appeal primarily to girls and is an excellent recommendation for anyone tired of more typical YA genre fare – there are no monsters, romances, or apocalypses to be found. Rachelle Delaney creates a relatable middle-school experience that will speak to young people in times of transition, or who might not feel completely comfortable in their own skin.
Susie Wilson is the Data Services Librarian at the University of Northern British Columbia. When she isn’t at work, you’ll find her curled up with a cup of coffee and a good book.
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