Dineen (She Sins at Midnight, 2014) incorporates spirit advisers into a feel-good, small-town mystery for middle-grade readers.
A trio of otherworldly female conspirators set the stage, telling readers that the Willamette Wig Factory must reopen, and that they will nudge events to make it so. The story immediately shifts to 11-year-old Wilhelmina Rhonda Snodgrass, aka “Willy,” who has “red hair she hated, freckles she loathed,” and who’s been uprooted by a family move. Leaving behind her best friends and swim team, a lonely Willy now finds herself in Oregon, friendless and dreading the start of seventh grade. When she meets Thomasina Franchesca Andretti (aka “Tommy”), she finds that they share more than boyish nicknames. Tommy recently dyed her hair blue, and together, the wholesome, brightly coiffed duo set out to explore the town. Along the way, they teach a lesson to the bullying head cheerleader and aim to bring an important town industry back to life. They meet elderly Georgianna Carbunkle (who dispenses etiquette along with advice), and discover unknown family connections. They and a host of other oddly named characters inevitably get the factory open in time. A broken carousel with a ghostly teen attendant also pops up throughout the story, which could have used tighter editing. However, Dineen’s introduction sets a tone that’s maintained throughout: this is a story that’s set around a mission. Aimed at the misfits, the bullied, the peer-pressured—in other words, most preteens—the tale also has an undercurrent of advice: make a friend, listen to elders, find the right dress and the right hair, and things will work out. The author’s humorous tone, meanwhile, keeps things light, and several recipes provide a nice final touch.
Light fantasy with wholesome messages for tweens.