CALL ME FIREFLY by James C. Paavola

CALL ME FIREFLY

From the "Sonny and Breanne Mystery" series, volume 2
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this sequel, two bullied middle schoolers continue to display a talent for befriending ghosts, untangling mysteries, and solving murders.

In the first installment of Paavola’s (Jack and the Beanpole, 2019, etc.) series, two smart eighth graders—tall and skinny white girl Breanne Thurman and short Sonny Etherly, who is black—bonded over their abilities to communicate with the dead and their relegation to the cafeteria “nerd table.” Now, not long after solving a murder, assisting a trio of ghosts haunting their school, and learning that they can speak to each other telepathically, the two friends face a double challenge: help five more spirits “cross over” and cope with Breanne’s relentless bully, the leader of the school’s mean girls. The first ghost, Ashni “Firefly” Patel, died a violent death at the school in the 1950s along with sad, frightened first grader Luis Sanchez and sullen Timmy O’Brien, a leather-jacketed teen. At the zoo, Breanne and Sonny meet two more ghosts of ’50s vintage, seemingly unrelated to the first three (or are they?): the zoo’s one-time veterinarian and the lion in his care. This fast-moving tale of suspense and the supernatural, told through the distinctive first-person voices of Sonny, Breanne, and Ashni, is seamlessly grounded in the real-world issue of bullying. Indeed, few characters in the book, living or dead, are (or were) unaffected by bullying, some as bullies themselves. Despite ghostly intercessions on Breanne’s behalf, Paavola doesn’t offer glib solutions. What shines through, without losing the plot’s momentum, are some root causes of bullying and the importance of a proactive school administration, communication, tools for de-escalating anger, and supportive peers and adults. Sonny has his grandmother (Grams) to confide in; Breanne has her grandfather; and they both have a sympathetic science teacher. Diversity is easily organic to the narrative, with characters described as black or white; so are Grams’ frank recollections of segregation in the ’50s, leading Sonny to understand Luis’ and Ashni’s experiences as “two ‘not-white’ kids in an all-white school.”

Engaging storytelling with diverse characters and a deft mix of mystery, the supernatural, and real-life, relatable teen issues.

Page count: 228pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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