Jem is an unusual 13-year-old. Her dad is a clown, her mum runs a mad café for kids, their house is covered in Christmas lights all year round and she’s not terminally embarrassed about any of it. It’s part of what makes Jem a joy to read about, but we can equally empathise with why her serious older sister Gracie might have run off two years ago without a word since.
But Jem knows it’s because of her. She’s doing her best not to think about it, and tries to focus on helping her parents out – whatever the cost to her own life. Eventually she does seize the chance to form a band with best friend Iris and a couple of boys they meet. But the mystery of Gracie’s leaving keeps prickling at Jem through the many strange coincidences (‘spooks’ as she calls them) that crop up, teasing Jem into opening the box in her head where she’s shut away all the hard to deal with thoughts, regrets and guilt to do with her sister.
Despite its serious underlying theme, this novel is also a light-hearted slice of teen life, with Jem’s upbeat moments, friendships, the burgeoning band and mortifying rehearsals and discovering that even the cute boys your age can actually be as human and fun to be around as your best friend. There is a lot to laugh over with oodles of appeal to readers of 10+. The underpinning mystery of Gracie’s leaving, the effect on her family and Jem’s guilt is intriguing, and balances out the madcap lifestyle with a real emotional depth; that special relationship between sisters in particular is refreshingly honest and truly touching in its depiction.