Stringer debuts with an adventurous, darkly humorous ghost story. Twelve-year-old Belladonna Johnson lives an ordinary life, except for the fact that she can see ghosts, including those of her parents, who were killed in a car accident. Other than that, they're still her same old parents (“Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were great believers in the family dinner and just because they were no longer corporeal, they saw no reason to let things slide”). That is, until they disappear, along with all the other ghosts Belladonna has gotten to know. After enlisting her classmate Steve as a sidekick, Belladonna journeys to the Land of the Dead in order to bring back the ghosts; she eventually comes to realize that the fate of the universe is at stake and it's up to her to restore the natural equilibrium of the world. Though Belladonna at times seems like just another generic heroine, Stringer's ability to build a strong sense of mystery, entwined with Western mythology, will pull readers through to the end. Those who like unusual ghost stories without the usual horror will enjoy this book. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Twelve-year-old Belladonna Johnson's parents died a year ago in a car accident, but this is not as terribly sad as it might seem, because Belladonna has the family gift of being able to see ghosts. So Belladonna and her parents continue to livewell, residetogether happily (though it is somewhat unsettling when her father greets her return home from school by poking "his head right through the middle of the wall"). But now, alarmingly, the doors between Belladonna's world and the Other Side have begun to close. It is up to Belladonna to find out how to open them again, accompanied by school troublemaker, Steve, and an annoyingly perky schoolgirl ghost, Elsie. People keep claiming that somebody called "the Spellbinder" will appear to set things right, but what if the much-heralded Spellbinder is none other than clueless Belladonna herself? Stringer's narrative voice is engagingly witty: e.g., "You did not summon me, said Ashe, with the unmistakable dripping sarcasm of the worst kind of Math teacher;" Belladonna's dead grandfather is fond of expressions such as "As I live and breathe!" Stringer makes convincing the idea that a world without ghosts would be "so empty, populated only by the living" that we all need the "unliving" to be part of our lives as well. This debut novel establishes Stringer as a fresh and promising voice in middle-grade fantasy. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
VOYA - Jennifer McConnel
Belladonna Johnson is a quiet, reserved girl who holds herself apart from her classmatesnot because she is snobbish or rude but because she is terrified that she would reveal her deepest secret if she had friends. The secret she guards so carefully is that she can see and speak with ghosts. Not just the ghosts of her parents, who died tragically in an accident, but all ghosts. Long-dead ghosts, forgotten ghosts, and modern ghosts fill Belladonna's world until one day, when the ghosts mysteriously vanish, and Belladonna is forced to confide in a classmate in order to solve whatever is wrong on the "other side." With the help of a varied cast of characters, including a Greek oracle, her dead grandfather, and her rather imposing aunt, Belladonna embarks on a magical quest that could either save or destroy the world of the living, not to mention other realms, as well. This charming debut novel blends classic British fantasy with figures usually reserved for horror stories to create a compelling fantasy adventure romp which will appeal to middle grades readers. Although the characters and the quest are strangely reminiscent of the early Harry Potter novels, this book is sure to hook readers and leave them waiting for what must certainly be a sequel, if not a whole series. Reviewer: Jennifer McConnel
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Belladonna Johnson, 12, who has the family trait of seeing ghosts, appreciates the gift after her parents' car accident. They happily haunt the house, her mother still prepares meals, Belladonna still spends evenings watching Staunchly Springs with them, and her daily chore is to pick up a newspaper for her father. But suddenly ghosts start to disappear, including her parents. Elsie Blaine, the young Victorian ghost that haunts Belladonna's school, is the only one around, and even Steve, her mischievous chemistry lab partner, can see her. He becomes Belladonna's amusing sidekick on a quest to discover the truth. In the Land of the Dead, they meet strange Dr. Ashe and discover that he has something to do with the disappearances. Magical creatures, amulets, and verses are all a part of this delightful tale that leads Belladonna and Steve on a deadly adventure. Stringer maintains the humor and logic of preteens who are awkwardly coming into their magical destinies, which makes for an amusing first novel.—Nancy D. Tolson, Mitchell College, New London, CT
Poor Belladonna. It's so embarrassing when she talks to the ghosts that no one else can see-everyone thinks she's nuts. Since her parents died in a car accident, they've been hanging out at home, which is both comforting and disconcerting at the same time. Worse, however, is when they disappear in a flash one day. Belladonna knows she has to do something-but what? The pursuit of the dark side takes off when Belladonna accidentally touches disruptive and smart Steve Evans at school while confronted by the ghostly Elsie. Suddenly Steve can see what she sees, and the intriguing clues that have been steadily arriving at unexplained moments send the duo into the Land of the Dead in search of the Spellbinder. When they're dismissed by the adults who seem to know something, it is, of course, up to Steve and Belladonna to find the answers and solve everything. The disarmingly matter-of-fact tone contrasts with the genuinely scary apparitions and dangers they confront. Wry wit and derring-do add up to a great read. (Fantasy. 9-12)
From the Publisher
Praise for Spellbinder:
“Wry wit and derring-do add up to a great read.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Stringer debuts with an adventurous, darkly humorous ghost story. …Stringer's ability to build a strong sense of mystery, entwined with Western mythology, will pull readers through to the end. Those who like unusual ghost stories without the usual horror will enjoy this book.” —Publishers Weekly
“Stringer maintains the humor and logic of preteens who are awkwardly coming into their magical destinies, which makes for an amusing first novel.” —School Library Journal
“Readers will fear for and cheer for Belladonna Johnson, the hero of this brilliant has-it-all novel, as she tries to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of the world’s ghosts. One of the year’s best.” —Cookie magazine
“Stringer’s charming ghost story defies classification. …A fast-paced plot and intricate world pull the reader along, but it’s Bella’s love for her parents and her need to keep them with her that linger.” —Booklist
“This charming debut novel blends classic British fantasy with figures usually reserved for horror stories to create a compelling fantasy adventure romp which will appeal to middle grades readers. …this book is sure to hook readers and leave them waiting for what must certainly be a sequel, if not a whole series.” —VOYA
“Stringer's narrative voice is engagingly witty… This debut novel establishes Stringer as a fresh and promising voice in middle-grade fantasy.” —Claudia Mills, Ph.D., Children’s Literature
Readers will fear for and cheer for Belladonna Johnson, the hero of this brilliant has-it-all novel, as she tries to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of the world's ghosts. One of the year's best.
Stringer's charming ghost story defies classification. …A fast-paced plot and intricate world pull the reader along, but it's Bella's love for her parents and her need to keep them with her that linger.
Read an Excerpt
Belladonna's father poked his head out of the sitting room. And that was the problem right there, really. Where most fathers would have poked their heads out of the sitting room door, Mr. Johnson poked his right through the middle of the wall.
"Did you bring the paper?"
Belladonna looked at him reprovingly. He immediately vanished back into the sitting room and reappeared in the doorway.
"Sorry," he said. "I forgot. Did you bring the paper?"
"Honestly, Dad, anyone passing by could've seen you through the window!" He took the paper and turned back into the sitting room with a shrug.
"No one can see me. Only you."
Belladonna followed him in, exasperated. "Gran can see you. Lots of people can see ghosts, you see them talking about it on TV all the time."
"Charlatans," muttered her father, settling down an inch above his favorite chair.