Stephanie's Reviews > The Guidance

The Guidance by Marley Gibson
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Jul 03, 10

bookshelves: fantasy, young-adult
Read in May, 2010

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Marley Gibson‘s second novel Ghost Huntress: The Guidance from a giveaway hosted recently by the wonderful The Knight Agency. I picked it up out of my to-read shelf after getting home from a girls’ night out on Friday, and needless to say had some rather dark looking bags beneath my eyes by the following day.

The Ghost Huntress series began, I believe, as a trilogy, but has been extended to at least a fifth book, and given the avenues that Gibson opens up for her expansive cast of characters, and the impressive credibility she gives them as individuals, it’s unsurprising that this has occurred.

The series follows Kendall Moorehead, a sixteen-year-old who has recently moved from big-city life in Chicago to the slightly sleepier Radisson, Georgia. While this is a fairly standard starting point for a YA, Kendall’s new-girl-in-town situation is significantly complicated by the fact that she has recently developed the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. The Guidance, then, picks up with Kendall struggling to deal with her mother’s lack of acceptance of her gifts, as well the demands that they place on her due to their uncontrolled nature. These are issues that affect her both physically, and also in terms of the tentative relationships she has built with her friends and her fledgling romance with Jason.

These problems are evident almost immediately, as Kendall is abruptly put upon to track down a missing body, and must then deal with the aftermath of doing so: as she works with the Crawford family to locate the spirit of a missing elderly man, Kendall finds that there are other spirits loose in the Crawford house, and that one in particular harbours a vicious streak. However, Kendall has other issues in addition to dealing with a sinister ghost: the school alpha female, cruel cheerleader Courtney Langdon, is, to put it mildly, somewhat affronted that Kendall has unwittingly stolen her thunder. And goodness, what thunder it is.

Courtney is determined to regain her position in the social hierarchy, and does so through a series of strange imitative efforts that initially serve to humiliate Kendall, but that ultimately result in Courtney being ‘oppressed’ (cf possessed) by the sinister Crawford ghost in the wake of a seance gone horribly wrong.

This book took me a little acclimatising until I was truly comfortable with the narrative voice–it’s an extremely ‘voicy’ YA in the vein of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Golden. It occasionally goes a little mad with the teen vernacular, and I found myself cringing here and there at the way the author marks sarcasm with ‘(not!)’ or splashes about superlative ‘sooooo cools’ with startling vigour. These strange instances are sort of like seizures, though: they burst into being for a page or so, and then recede for a few chapters. The same goes for the sudden barrage of brand name-dropping that seems to hit at random intervals before heading back into the nearby shrubs, apparently biding its time before another attack.

However, Gibson largely does do a good job of capturing the teen voice, and of getting into the head of her characters. She makes an admirable effort to draw her characters within a proper social context, rounding them out with detailed personal attributes and goals, strong networks of friends, and believable family situations. For the most part, Kendall’s place as a new girl within the tight-knit community of Radisson feels very real, and I also appreciated the careful way the relationship with Kendall and her loving-but-concerned mother is approached and addressed. Kendall’s relationships with her spiritual mentor, and with her ghost guide Emily are also sympathetically captured, and Gibson’s talent is really on show in these moments.

However, there are some places where the characterisation fell flat for me, with the first of these being, of course, Courtney (and one does have to wonder why almost every character in the book has a name beginning with C or K). Courtney is presented as a queen-bee cheerleader with all the most obnoxious traits that go with the type: she’s bossy, self-obsessed, and jealous. Although Gibson hints that there are difficulties in Courtney’s life, these are airily waved away when Kendall reads Courtney’s thoughts only to find out that the biggest fears the cheerleader has about her parents’ apparent financial woes relate to keeping up with the latest fashion trends. I also struggled with the extremely unsympathetic and flippant depiction of Courtney’s eating disorder.

Similarly, and this is one nit-pick that often arises with large ensemble casts, Kendall’s friends are differentiated so thoroughly as to make the reader wonder why they are possibly friends in the first place. We end up with the strange Babysitters Club-like situation of having a whole bunch of disparate but zany personalities jammed together, and this isn’t always convincing. Kendall’s boyfriend Jason also suffers a little in the characterisation stakes, and largely remains in the background unless he’s displaying some concerning stalker-esque warning signs a la Edward from Twilight.

However, overall, The Guidance comes together quite well, and it is largely the characters that keep the book moving. Gibson has created a mostly believable cast and has worked them into a well-drawn setting, and the ghost element allows for the clever layering of both family and social history over the day-to-day lives of the characters. The descriptions of the paranormal phenomena that occur as part of the narrative are entrancing and intriguing, and Gibson captures the atmosphere that apparently accompanies these events in a way that feels believable. The theme of self-acceptance is evident throughout the book, but in a way that is not overt or didactic.

I’m curious to see how Gibson builds upon these strengths with the third in the series–expect a review in a few weeks.
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