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Clara Voyant

by Rachelle Delaney

Family of Spies

by Jodi Carmichael

Two new books explore the perks and problems that come with a stronger-than-average intuition. One protagonist “sees” his long-dead great-grandfather spying on Nazis, while the other unwittingly uses her “gift” to write horoscopes that come true. And both characters feel that being 13 is hard enough without the added pressure of clairvoyant visions.

In Family of Spies, Winnipeg brothers Ford and Gavin – along with their parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin, Ellie – arrive in Paris for the beginning of a European vacation. Ford instantly feels a sense of déjà vu but brushes it off.

At their hotel, Ellie pulls out their great-grandfather’s briefcase, which is filled with mementoes from the Second World War. Looking at it, Ford feels “a wave of nausea”; when he actually touches it his vision blurs, the walls around him disappear, and he’s transported to a 1940s airport hangar. Then a bomb explodes.

Understandably freaked out, Ford, Gavin, and Ellie hightail it to a Parisian psychic to get information on Ford’s condition. The older woman can see that Ford will be a great clairvoyant one day, but right now he’s inexperienced, “like a geyser exploding at will.” She warns them to keep his gift a secret and says that Gavin and Ellie need to protect Ford from people who will want to use him as an “agent of evil.”

The cousins make their way through Paris, piecing together their great-grandfather’s past: he was a spy involved in a harrowing secret mission gone wrong. There’s danger in the present too, as the kids realize they’re being followed but refuse to tell their (perfectly reasonable) parents what’s going on. Instead the brothers, who’ve never been close, learn to rely on each other and work through their rivalries and insecurities. They both adore Ellie, and the only other person they feel they can trust is a young, attractive military librarian who drives them around Paris in a baby blue Fiat – very junior James Bondian.

Jodi Carmichael keeps up a quick pace, juggling past and present with equally enjoyable results. But Family of Spies is an unexceptional read. The story is dragged down at times by repetition – for example, Ford is always insatiably hungry after a vision. It’s also hard to believe that not one of these really good kids is willing to confide in his or her parents.

Clara Voyant moves at an entirely different speed than Family of Spies. This is not an adventure story but rather a quiet family dramedy. Clara doesn’t even get her first hint of clairvoyant intuition until page 64, and it’s not until close to the end of the book that she figures out how her powers work. What comes before that discovery is a thoughtful story about mothers and daughters, making friends, and adjusting to a new life.

Clara and her mom, Gaby, have recently moved into an apartment in Toronto’s quirky and colourful Kensington Market neighbourhood. Gaby immerses herself in all things New Agey: working at Healing Herbs, making friends with a couple who commune with the dead, and basically letting her freak flag fly. Meanwhile, Clara is a dedicated school newspaper journalist who’s got no time for her mother’s “woo” (the term favoured by Clara’s grandmother).

Clara is disgusted when she’s assigned the task of writing the weekly horoscopes. Then further annoyed when her astrological predictions start coming true and her classmates become convinced she’s got celestial mojo. It isn’t until Clara takes it upon herself to investigate the school’s stolen mascot – and is able to divine its whereabouts – that she accepts her newfound abilities.

Delaney’s book has multiple fun-to-follow storylines, from the mystery surrounding the Miss Trunchbull–like janitor to the romance between Kensington’s taco slinger, Paquito, and ice cream scooper, Sophie. But it’s the loving way in which all these characters are drawn and the intimate scenes between a mystic mother and skeptic daughter that makes this novel so affecting