Eloise: A Ghost Story
by Catherine Jinks
Published by Allen and Unwin
180 pages, 2003
Buy it online
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Catherine Jinks is not a writer who can easily be slotted into a single category. She became prominent in Australian young adult fiction with the Pagan tetralogy, a series of historical novels set during the period of the Third Crusade. It was powerful stuff that took the reader from the Crusades to the persecution of the Cathars in France and didn't hesitate to kill characters off. The first novel, Pagan's Crusade, won the Australian Children's Book Council Award. The author went on to fantasy with an amusing tale called Witchbank, a number of science fiction novels and several others. Recently she has been writing for adults, but Eloise: A Ghost Story is one of a series aimed at younger readers. Although it is the third in this particular series, it can be read as a standalone story, with a few references to what has gone before, but nothing vital. The previous story in this series, Eglantine, was short listed for the Aurealis Award for fantasy and science fiction, and was a Children's Book Council Notable Book.
Twelve-year-old Allie and her friends Peter and Michelle have been thinking of starting up an Exorcists' Club, having successfully "laid" a ghost in a previous story. When this bunch of junior Ghostbusters is asked by a schoolmate to contact a dead relative, they don't find him, but they do find something else in the friend's room that is causing the girl to eat a lot and put on weight. A professional psychic confirms that something is there, but it is up to the friends to do their research and find out what it is and how they can persuade it to move on.
The novel is a nice combination of mystery and ghost story, with the ghost being more sad than anything else. There is nothing especially scary about Eloise: A Ghost Story, so a child who is expecting Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine might be disappointed. It is, however, intelligently written, with likable characters and plenty of humor, and doesn't talk down to its readers. In fact, having read so much of Catherine Jinks' young adult fiction, I wasn't aware, immediately, of how young the heroine and her friends were. There was also the side-story of Allie's father, who has returned after eight years of "finding himself" in Asia, expecting his children to welcome him. Even here the author managed to slip in some humor, in a scene with the father and his oddball girlfriend in their New Age lifestyle. Not, perhaps, immediately relevant to the main storyline, but not out of place either.
In some ways, it's a junior version of Kim Wilkins' enjoyable Gina Champion stories, about a teenage psychic detective, only Allie and her friends don't have psychic powers. They have to play detective through normal research, in the library and through phone calls. They are children who actually enjoy being in the school library, with the first positive portrayal of a teacher-librarian I've encountered in fiction in some time. There's even the suggestion that the Internet isn't everything; in one scene, Allie finds the needed information in a book while her friends are still struggling with a slow 'Net connection. Perhaps the young reader will even get the idea that library research is a useful and interesting thing, which is all to the good.
Enjoyable and entertaining reading for children in late primary school. | October 2003
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.