________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 3 . . . . September 21, 2012


Small Medium at Large.

Joanne Levy.
New York, NY: Bloomsbury (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2012.
197 pp., hardcover, $17.00.
ISBN 978-159990-836-6.

Subject Headings:
Dating (Interpersonal relations)-Fiction.
Jews-United States-Fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Rachel Steen.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"Are you awake? I think we need to talk." The voice was as loud as if there was a person speaking right next to me. I looked around the room, but despite the restorative sleep I was still hearing things. "You're not hearing things. Well you are, but it's me you're hearing, your Bubby."

"Bubby?" I whispered into the dimness. "What happened to me?"

"Well, you were hit by lightn-"

"No," I interrupted. "What happened to me that I can hear you? Are you really there, or am I crazy?"

"I'm here. You're not crazy."

I took a deep breath. "So can you explain why I can hear you how?"

"It must have been the lightning doing something to your wiring. I can't explain it, but I felt it when you were hit."

"Were you there?" It felt surreal talking to a disembodied voice, but I had so many questions. And it sure sounded like my late grandmother. And even if I was crazy, it was kind of comforting talking to her.

"I wasn't able to attend the wedding, unfortunately, but when the lightning hit you, it was like someone switched on a radio channel. That's the best way I can describe it."


"But I'm glad it happened," she said.

Personally, I wasn't so sure. It was very weird.

After being hit by lightning at her mother's wedding, 12-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them is her highly opinionated Bubby Dora, (her father's mother) a prissy fashion designer, a mischievous, attention-seeking boy, and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade and help her face her biggest fear- talking to- and possibly going to the school dance with her crush, Andrew Finkel.

      In her debut novel, Joanne Levy has created a fun and tremendously entertaining story about trying to survive seventh grade. Lilah is a typical 12-year-old, with typical 12-year-old worries. She's pretty but not gorgeous, smart, but not a genius, and she has a small circle of friends, but is not the most popular girl in school. Like many 12-year-olds, she also is experiencing her first major crush, but so far, hasn't quite been able to find the courage to act on it.

      Small Medium at Large is told in first person, and Lilah's voice feels completely authentic. Her narration is straightforward, honest, and witty, and she comes across as compassionate, intelligent, and likeable. She worries about her dad, who, as she describes, has done nothing to "get back out there" since the divorce, makes plans with her best friend Alex to form a band, (even though they have no instruments and can barely play) and has the usual worries about boys, bras, and bullies. When she develops the ability to hear ghosts, she takes it completely in stride and handles it gracefully and calmly.

      While the ghosts add a supernatural element to the story, Small Medium at Large is not a ghost story. It is a realistic, coming-of-age story, and the ghosts act as guides who help Lilah navigate tricky situations. It is also a strength of the novel that the ghosts each have distinct personalities, and each of them has a purpose. The primary ghost, Bubby Dora, is an amalgamation of the author's great-grandmother and mother, and she provides Lilah with a much-needed female influence. With Bubby acting as both a friend and a guide, the interactions between Lilah and her Bubby are sweetly and comically written, and readers will enjoy the close bond between them. Through her interactions with the ghosts, Lilah learns about showing compassion, following dreams, handling bullies, and most importantly, she learns what she's capable of.

      The novel is tightly-written and fast-paced, the dialogue is clever and funny, and the story flows well. While there are some discussions of kissing and dating, there is nothing in it to make it inappropriate for a fifth-or sixth grade girl, and Small Medium at Large is a perfect read for every girl who is struggling or has ever struggled to fit in.

Highly Recommended.

Rachel Steen is the Elementary/YA selection manager at S&B Books in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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