Poltergeeks is the first book in a promising urban fantasy series about Julie, a hereditary witch, and her best friend Marcus, a science geek. While it has many of the flaws of a first novel (or in this case, a first YA novel), it's also a charming (no pun intended) (OK, pun totally intended) story full of quirky family relationships and magic action.
- Full Title: Poltergeeks
- Series: Poltergeeks (#1)
- Author: Sean Cummings
- Publisher: Strange Chemistry
- Publication Date: 2012
- ISBN: 978-1-908844-10-1 (paperback), 978-1-908844-11-8 (ebook), B007SGYJEC (Kindle ASIN)
A Poltergeist that Isn't
Julie Richardson is a fifteen-year-old witch living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her best friend is the smart-as-can-be neighbour boy Marcus, who she's known since she was little. He's the only one besides her mother who knows that Julie is a witch. Julie is supposed to be her mother's apprentice, studying and practising magic only when her mother allows, but Julie is impatient, like most teenagers, so she can't help but do a little magic now and then when she's not supposed to.
So when she and Marcus come upon an elderly neighbour and her cat being forcibly ejected from their house by what seems to be a simple, but strong, poltergeist, Julie simply has to help. She should run to get her mother, but it's only a low-level spirit, after all. Except what she discovers is not just a run-of-the-mill haunting. It's something much bigger than will leave Julie facing the most danger she's ever encountered, without her mother's help when she most needs it.
In Poltergeeks, witches are a hereditary group who can harness the supernatural powers around them that most people rarely even sense. They are charged with the duty to protect the mortal realm from things magical and dangerous, but of course there are rogues and renegades who choose to do magic for selfish ends, and even some who are purely evil.
Julie and her mom are --as far as Julie knows -- two simple witches who follow their calling to help the mortal world. They live apart from other witches because -- as far as Julie knows -- her mother doesn't like the politics. And Julie's dad was an ordinary man who dies in a car accident when she was little -- as far as Julie knows. You may be sensing a theme here. Most of the plot revolves around what Julie doesn't know, which is not an uncommon device in YA, but which became frustrating for this reader because so often there didn't seem like a really good reason for the information to be kept from her. In other words, a lot of the plot felt contrived.
A Little Romance, Too
To be fair, there always was a reason for everything that happened, and the plot came neatly together by the end. The problem was, I didn't really buy most of the reasons. They felt like something the author came up with in order to make the plot go the right direction (or perhaps something an agent or editor came up with in the editing stage) rather than natural consequences of the characters and situation. Even the romantic elements ended up being more significant -- and contrived -- than they seemed through much of the story; I was glad while reading that the love story wasn't overblown, and then ended up disappointed when it was.
And I think that's my biggest criticism of Poltergeeks. I really did like it, and I will definitely read book 2 in the series (I plan to start it as soon as I finish writing this review, in fact), but over all it felt too constructed, if that makes any sense, as if the author built the story rather than letting it grow.
Poltergeeks certainly has a lot going for it, which is why I will keep reading the series, and look for other books by Sean Cummings. Julie is a great character -- she's impulsive, and often not the best person she could be, just like a real person, but she's also loyal, and good-hearted, and when it comes down to it, she's there when her friends and family need her. She's also not afraid to kick a little magical ass when the situation calls for it.
This book has got a bit of everything. There's action in plenty, magic both good and evil, ghosts and spirits, family drama, high school drama, and true friendship. Despite its flaws, I can see Poltergeeks appealing to a wide audience. The lack of sex and only a little swearing mean most parents can be comfortable giving this even to younger teens, but the cool main characters will (I hope) appeal to older teens, too. Plus it's always fun for me to read a story set somewhere I used to live. Yay, Canada!