Meg Cabot (also published as Jenny Carroll)
Additional note to the images: These are the editions that I own and I wanted to pay homage to the original covers, which I love. They have been released in a more uniform format for those who are into that sort of thing.
Review by: Nisha
I was a teenager when I first met Susannah Simon and I followed her journey until the series came to an end. So, naturally, I was absolutely beside myself when I got an alert from Goodreads letting me know that Cabot was releasing a novelette and 7th instalment to the series, joining The Princess Diaries in having an adult follow-up to a YA series. Of course, it’s been a while since I’d read the books and wanted to make sure I was fully updated.
So, I present to you a review of the entirety of the Mediator Series.
For those who are not familiar with Susannah Simon, here’s a brief recap:
We meet her as she is moving in with her new stepfamily after her mother’s remarriage. Moving across the country is already a big enough culture shock for her, then there’s the addition of a stepfather, three stepbrothers and a 150 year old ghost living in her bedroom.
Susannah is a mediator: a person born with the special gift of being able to see and converse with the dead (or, as she later calls them, Non-Compliant Deceased), helping them move onto the next stage of their afterlife. She’s grown up with this ability, so the presence of a ghost in her new room isn’t much of a shock to her, even if she finds him a bit annoying. As the series goes on, Susannah and Jesse develop a friendship and work together to help other Non-Compliant Deceased, sometimes smoothly and other times… really not. She also has the aid of a fellow mediator- Father Dominic, who happens to be her headmaster as well- although she doesn’t always listen to his advice, mostly because he frowns upon the amount of fisticuffs in which her style often results.
The series comes to a dramatic climax when she crosses paths with two siblings who are mediators as well (despite their rarity, they tend to pop up a lot in Carmel): Jack and Paul. Jack is a sweet young boy who originally feared his gift and was withdrawn until Susannah helps him comes to terms with his gift. Paul… is another story. He becomes obsessed with Susannah, to the point of near fatal results and a very dramatic incident involving time travel.
Book 7 picks up several years after the end of the original run- Susannah is engaged (the proposal taking place in the novelette) and working at her old high school as a counselor. Paul resurfaces, somehow even creepier that before, now a real estate tycoon and eager to mow down Susannah’s old house unless she provides… certain favours. In true Mediator style, both book 7 and the novelette have a Ghost-of-the-Week, with Susannah working to solve a mystery around their death and dealing with some rather angry ghosts. Book 7 has the added bonus of a juicy family secret as well. I will not divulge the secret nor the identity of Susannah’s fiance, just in case you haven’t read the series yet. I’d like you to be surprised.
Most people are familiar with Cabot’s most famous YA series: The Princess Diaries. The Mediator has some similarities in writing style since, you know, same author. But, beyond that, The Mediator is much darker and grittier. Obviously, the subject matter is critical in changing the tone, but Mia and Susannah are also very different people. For starters, I doubt Mia Thermopolis would end up in a violent fight (unless you count that thing with the ice cream…) or give insulting-yet-quite-apt nicknames to her (step) siblings.
Susannah is snarky, sarcastic and doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of her. Her personality is somewhat refreshing and I really enjoy her as a character. Even when she’s fawning over Jesse, she does it with some dignity and doesn’t fall apart during setbacks. She’s definitely a very strong female character, one that every teenage girl (and boy) should meet.
Meg Cabot’s writing starts off a little lacking in the beginning of the series although, in my opinion, Cabot even at her worst is still brilliant. She repeats the odd phrase or trope (like when Susannah accidentally calls her stepbrothers by their nicknames and corrects herself partway) a fair bit in the first three books- while this is probably with the aim to establish Susannah’s voice, I found it a little irritating. That being said, I don’t recall noticing it when I read it as a teenager, so perhaps that’s just me being overly critical. As the series progresses, Cabot’s writing matures and becomes even more gripping, although the storylines are enough to keep the reader hooked throughout. Regardless of minor issues in writing, I felt compelled to continue reading to find out what happens to the characters- Cabot has a gift for creating people that you really care about, regardless of how important they are to the overall story.
The plots involving ghosts are great- even though there’s a basic formula of “ghost is there, ghost is mad about something, Susannah and Jesse work to find the reason why and are sometimes wrong, Dom helps them find the reason, ghost is placated and moves on”, Cabot still manages to make it compelling and creates enough differences and subplots to keep the series from getting dry.
The time travel plot that pops up from book 6 onwards takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get around- I definitely had to stop and really think about what happened and how it would make sense based on the existing theories of time travel. I made my peace with it, but I suspect the resolution to the original run of the series might leave some readers unsettled.
On whole, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll pull back in revulsion… but Susannah Simon will set up in your brain and live there forever.