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Book Review

Ferris is gearing up for one of the strangest summers of her life. Her grandma wants help with a ghost. Her Uncle Ted moves into the basement to paint a history of the world. Her sister Pinky tries to rob a bank. And let’s not even talk about the raccoons taking over the attic. Yet for all her family’s quirks, Ferris finds that she loves them. And she might just have an amazing summer after all.

Plot Summary

Her name is Emma Phineas Wilkey, but everyone calls her Ferris. She entered the world at the fair beneath the Ferris wheel, much to her mother’s dismay.

The summer before Ferris’ fifth-grade year isn’t quite as eventful as her birth, but it’s pretty close. Her grandma, Charisse, sends her on a mission to help a ghost.

Ferris has never doubted Charisse, so when she says she sees a ghost, Ferris believes her. But as it happens, her family has bigger problems. When Uncle Ted quits his job to paint a history of the world, Aunt Shirley kicks him out of their house. Now he’s living in Ferris’s family’s basement, making slow progress on his project.

Ferris’s mom might be annoyed by her brother-in-law, but she and the rest of the family are at their wits’ end with Ferris’s sister, Pinky, who insists that she wants to be an outlaw—and plans to commit some crimes to prove it.

Yet, the family drama is only beginning. Charisse is sick and just keeps getting sicker, and the doctor says that her heart is failing. Ferris can’t imagine losing her grandma, but Charisse won’t let her dwell on the impending grief. Instead, she sends Ferris on a mission. The ghost, Charisse says, needs the chandelier downstairs to be lit for her dead husband so that he can find his way home.

Ferris isn’t sure how she’s going to find enough candles for the chandelier, much less convince her mom that lighting hundreds of them is a good idea. She also isn’t sure how to get Uncle Ted and Aunt Shirley to make up or how to connect with her wild sister. But as the summer goes on, Ferris discovers that with a few friends, a crazy family and a bunch of old candles, anything is possible.

Christian Beliefs

Ferris reads the Bible to her grandmother. God, hell, Sunday school, angels and communion are all mentioned.

Other Belief Systems

Ghosts, fate, the Grim Reaper, magic and divination are mentioned. The universe is referred to in the sense that it has some sort of divine power.

Authority Roles

Ferris’s parents take care of the family well and punish their children fairly. Shirley kicks Ted out when he quits his job, but they eventually work things out.

Profanity & Violence

A dog catches a baby squirrel. Ferris’s great-grandfather had a gambling problem. Pinky tries to rob a bank and steals pliers from the hardware store because she wants to be an outlaw. Smoking is mentioned. A character’s mom died in childbirth, and another lost her husband before the summer began.

[Spoiler Warning] Charisse dies the following winter.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

Do you ever struggle to understand your siblings? Why do you think that is? What can you do to connect with them better?

Ferris doesn’t get mad at her aunt, even though she gets a horrible haircut. How do you react to frustrating situations? What can you do to handle hard situations better?

Read Proverbs 14:21. Ferris and her friend, Billy, included Mrs. Mielk in the chandelier dinner because they knew she was lonely. How can you help those around you who are lonely and hurting?

Additional Comments

Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie, once again creates memorable characters and weaves a heartwarming story about family and friendship. Though she includes fictional elements not all families will find suitable, her story has a strong message of empathy and caring for others.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Rachel Pfeiffer