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By Barrie Summy

Delecorte Press, 2009 ($15.99)
ISBN-10: 0385736045
ISBN-13: 978-0-385-73604-6
Ages 10 and up

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Two months have passed since Paula Paulson, aka The Ruler, married Sherry Baldwin's widowed father, and Sherry is getting used to her stepmother's strictness and even finds some of her healthy cooking kind of yummy. She's not too pleased when Paula accuses her of playing pranks like hiding her keys. Sherry, who is innocent of the charges, thinks Paula is losing it because she's so frazzled with the upcoming competition for the Saguaro Middle School Robotics Club she is the mentor of. Last year the Saguaro team, under her leadership, won the World Championships, and their rival team, Donner Middle School, is out for blood.

Sherry feels much better when she starts off for school and finds a bouquet of flowers on the porch. It has also been two months since she and hunky Josh Morton became an item, and she thinks he sent them. Turns out he didn't, and neither did Sherry's father, who's away on a business trip. She wonders why Paula looked so weird when she saw the flowers and the card.

Mom finds Sherry in class and tells her they have an important meeting with her guidance counselor, Mrs. Howard. The local branch of the Academy of Spirits is located in a secret room at the Dairy Queen. Sherry sneaks out of class, hoping The Ruler doesn't find out. Mrs. Howard, who smells of cinnamon buns but is even stricter than the Ruler, is not pleased that Sherry told Junie about her mom. She's also unhappy about Sherry's treatment of her new stepmother. She shows them a video of Sherry's disrespectful behavior toward Paula, and tells her she needs to straighten up or she'll lose the privilege of working with her mom. Sherry promises she'll do better. Then Mrs. Howard drops a bombshell: Paula is being stalked, and Sherry and her mom must protect her, find the stalker, and deliver the culprit to the authorities.

She also gives Sherry a bag of coffee beans to use to summon her mom, a much better and less messy method than waving around cups of coffee to get Mom's attention. All she has to do now is open the bag and Mom will come as fast as her ghostly essence can move. Mom is getting better with her ghostly skills: she can now cross thresholds, and she is doing an excellent job working with animals, thanks to her training in the canine corps when she was a live cop. She'll be using her skills in the upcoming World Wide Ghostlympics. If she wins, she and Sherry will win something precious: five minutes of Real Time, where they can see and interact with each other as they did when Mom was alive.

When Sherry goes to Donner Middle School to see Josh play in a water polo skirmish, she sort of accidentally becomes a member of the rival team's robotics club, realizing it's an opportunity to help her own team. Her deception is discovered after Donner destroys Saguaro in a practice game, but she has discovered something important about the identity of the stalker, and in doing so she is able to apprehend the stalker, help a grieving family, and give her brother a precious gift.

Just as her mom is growing in her chosen role in the afterlife, Sherry is growing in her ability to accept challenges and in her understanding of and empathy with other people — including The Ruler and brother Sam.

This is the second book in the series, and should please young fans of the gently supernatural. There are lessons to be learned from Sherry's choices, good and bad, and that will please the parents.

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