CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 3 . . . . September 21, 2012
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.
Rachel Steen is the Elementary/YA selection manager at S&B Books in Mississauga, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.