Kicking paranormal butt (a review)

The new girl in town arrives and makes friends among the school outcasts: a geeky girl who has an unrequited crush on the nerdy guy who develops an embarrassing crush on the first girl. She antagonises some of the popular kids and meets an older man who assumes the role of her mentor, even if he can’t quite keep her wild impulses and independent spirit under control. Then strange things start happening, and she meets a mysterious, sexy guy who appears to be a few years older than she is but is in fact, much, much older than he looks. She is attracted to him but knows she shouldn’t be, because he is part of her job calling.

Sound familiar?

It should – I’m talking about Buffy, right?

Wrong. I am in fact referring to Shadowland by Jenny Carroll (pseudonym of Meg Cabot, later re-published under that name)

Year published: 2000
Genre: Urban fantasy, young adult
Series and no.: The Mediator #1
Setting & time: California, USA, contemporary

Book covers

On her first day at her new school, psychic Susannah Simon meets a ghost and discovers that she isn’t the only one who has her particular psychic ability, as if moving to California from New York wasn’t tough enough. She and the school principal are both mediators, psychics who can not only see ghosts, but speak with them and touch them. Their job is to help the ghosts move on into the next world, but it can be tough, especially when the ghost doesn’t want to leave, and Suze has to use some unconventional ghost-busting means.

This particular book is, as other reviewers have pointed out, built firmly on the same model as Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the TV series, not the film. In Buffy it was vampires, in the Mediator series it’s ghosts. The book is pure formula throughout (and don’t imagine that Joss Whedon invented it, far from it), but, importantly, it is an entertaining formula.

Susannah is a sassy tough girl who has a psychic talent that she doesn’t dare tell her mother about for fear of ending up in a psychiatric hospital. She makes a chatty, entertaining narrator, a bit like several other of Cabot’s young heroines, which brings me to a problem. If you took a paragraph from any of Meg Cabot’s books for teenagers, be it the 1-800-WHERE-R-U series, the Princess Diaries, the All American Girl books, her adult Heather Wells books, and now the Mediator books, that didn’t contain any clues as to which series it comes from – i.e. no easy means of knowing who's talking, like names or places – you wouldn’t be able to tell who the narrator was, because they all use exactly the same narrative voice. Apart from that, the books generally make nicely entertaining reads, and this book is no different. Just don’t read any books from the different series too close together.

The tone is light, even humorous at times, the pace is fast-moving and the whole book only covers a period of four days. It’s very much plot driven and as for the characters, you can’t go far wrong if you imagine the main characters from Buffy in the lead.
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I'm off to a family reunion. Have a good weekend!

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