Small Medium at Large is every bit as frickin' adorable as the puntastic title implies, and I am so happy to be able to say that. I had extremely high hopes for Joanne Levy's debut, since we've bonded over Twitter, but experience has shown that just because I love an author, I won't necessarily be impressed by their novels. Thankfully, Joanne's was a little ray of middle grade sunshine that made me say "AWWWW" out loud multiple times.
From the very beginning, I knew I would love this, because Lilah has such a great, optimistic voice, perfect for a middle grade narrator. As the book begins, Lilah's the bridesmaid as her mother marries her new step-father, Stan. In most books, this would be where we hear about the evil step-parent or sadness over the divorce, but Lilah is nothing but supportive of her parents finding happiness. Even better, both of her parents are involved and loving.
While standing outside the reception hall, Lilah leans against a metal pole while trying to scrape some crud off her shoe and gets struck by lightning. She wakes up in the hospital with all three concerned parental units (mom and step-father having delayed their honeymoon), apparently no worse for the wear. Well, except that now she can hear her Bubby (her dead grandmother) talking to her.
Turns out, the lightning strike scrambled her brain and now she can hear dead people, but not see them, which is probably for the best. It's like The Sixth Sense, only hilarious and adorable instead of creepy. These sassy ghosts do what sassy ghosts do best: impart lots of advice of varying quantities of usefulness, and also ask for help of their own. Lilah, being the sweet, caring girl she is, takes this all relatively in stride and does her best to help everyone that comes her way, with the occasionally bumbling assistance of her best friend, and future band-mate, Alex.
What made this feel so essentially middle grade was Lilah's reaction to all of this. She has so much less skepticism in the face of the phenomenon and much less fear of other people's reactions. Where a teen or adult would keep this information on the down low, Lilah tells person after person, because she's honest and wants to help. An older person might devise a clever way around telling how they know what they do, but that's just not Lilah's style. It was adorable, especially one particular scene where Lilah tries to convince her crush, Andrew Finkle, that his dead father was speaking to her. Oh, also amusing was Lilah's inability to avoid responding to the ghosts, such that she ends up getting caught talking to herself a lot.
Lilah's interactions with others, both ghost and human alike, are where the book really shines. She takes such good care of her father, urging him (at Bubby's request) to start dating again. Her interactions with Andrew are totally accurate to middle school flirting in their sweet awkwardness. Bubby and Ms. Lafontaine stole the show with their sassy advice to Lilah, as well as their occasional shock at twelve-year-olds these days, who want to get kissed at the seventh grade dance (shocking!).
If you love adorable middle grade stories or know some middle graders who do, Small Medium at Large is an excellent choice, sure to delight a younger reader even more than it did me.