Fun Reading for Teens and Tweens: The Ghost Sonata

Jennifer Allison's "The Ghost Sonata" contains a number of classy and whimsical touches(Photo: Dutton Juvenile)
Jennifer Allison's "The Ghost Sonata" contains a number of classy and whimsical touches(Photo: Dutton Juvenile)

Sometimes things just jump out at you.

That’s what happened to me one day last week when I was passing by a stand of recommended books at the public library. A brightly colored book cover bearing the title The Ghost Sonata caught my eye and drew me in. Of course, I had to read it.

Though Jennifer Allison‘s young adult novel is not new (published in 2007), it was new to me, so maybe it’s new to you too. 

Plot Synopsis

The Ghost Sonata is the third in Allison’s series of novels featuring the excursions of the teenage “psychic investigator,” Gilda Joyce. When Gilda’s best friend, the musically gifted Wendy Choy, is invited to participate in the (fictional) Fifth Annual Young International Virtuosos Piano Competition at Oxford Unviersity, Gilda goes along as Wendy’s page-turner.

Against the backdrop of this ancient and reputedly haunted university town, Gilda seeks to learn why an unfamiliar melody keeps cropping up in Wendy’s head, shattering her concentration, and why tarot cards with menacing images keep appearing in the contestants’ pockets and music bags.

Wendy’s clairvoyance plays out (literally) over the course of the multi-round competition, and an intriguing little romance develops for Gilda.

While one could question some character development aspects of the novel, The Ghost Sonata contains any number of classy and whimsical touches. It’s easy to warm up to Gilda, who as a ninth-grader possesses all the delightful eccentricity of a dotty English dowager.

Her free spirit remains unburdened even when assaulted by Wendy’s sarcastic swipes. A ninth-grade girl catty? No! Maybe a touch of realism here, but one that made me wonder why the delightful Gilda sticks around.

The Book’s Classical Musical and Literature References

Still, it’s hard to argue with a young adult novel in which Lang Lang plays a cameo role; in which teenagers call Rachmaninoff‘s Third Piano Concerto by its pet name, “Rach Three;” in which Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, perhaps the most famous Oxford-born literary work, offers a context for Gilda’s cooky psychic sleuthing, in which the competition participants (all youths, like Gilda, Wendy, and their readers) play Bach and Mozart on stage in the Sheldonian Theatre, then head out to that most literary of watering holes, the Eagle and Child Pub, for bangers and mash.

“Who’s Lang Lang,” Allison’s readers might ask. “What’s the big deal about the Eagle and Child?” After reading The Ghost Sonata, they will know.

Allison’s greatest contribution with this novel may be to bring the worlds of Oxford (truly a mystical world within itself), English literature, and classical music into the consciousness of future generations of young readers in a way that might inspire them to latch on.  The Ghost Sonata is good reading, but it’s also a fun read.

And what’s more GenY than having fun?

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