Other Jenny put me on to these books about the Casson family, by Hilary McKay, some time ago. By now, after I’ve finished the third book in the series, I’m a complete convert: I’m at the point where I’m trying to get other people to read them, often by buying them the first in the series (Saffy’s Angel) and sending them off to a corner to begin it.
What makes them so wonderful? This is a family with an elastic sense of what “family” means: in the first book, Saffy’s friend Sarah becomes inseparable from the Cassons; in the second, Indigo brings in his troublemaking American friend Tom; in Permanent Rose, it’s David, an awkward reformed bully. Other members of the “family” are held more loosely, it seems, but never quite let go: the eldest sister Caddy is engaged to “darling Michael,” but she has an address book full of the names of former beaux, so she won’t forget them. Even their caddish father, Bill, has scarpered off to London with a new girlfriend, but has left a Post-It note on the fridge: ANYTIME DARLINGS LOVE DADDY XXOO.
So what, then, does family loyalty mean when you have such a large definition of family? Eight-year-old Rose has been waiting all summer to hear from Tom, who left for America at the end of the last book. The rest of the family has more or less given up on him, but Rose, despite her misery, won’t hear of it. She refuses to make friends with David — to let him into the family — despite his obvious good will, because he was once cruel to Tom and Indigo. And she tries to keep other members of the family from drifting away, as well, using her own stubborn backward logic. McKay is wonderful at looking at funny situations and sad ones, irrational and rational fears, misunderstandings and real, deep comprehension that can only come through love, and striking at the truth of the matter.
One more thing I loved about this book in particular. Rose is the real artist of the family — more so than either of her parents, both of whom earn a living as artists — but she seems to have some kind of learning disability with reading. (Her mother is loving but terminally absent-minded and her father is mostly just absent; I doubt either one of them would have noticed.) Some of the book is devoted to teaching Rose that books have a use after all: they can bring beauty into your mind and teach you about people, even if you have trouble reading them yourself. McKay does it beautifully, and I am always a sucker for triumphs involving reading.
I’ve really enjoyed these novels so far, and I’m looking forward to giving them to my own children (and to reading more of them, myself.) Have any of you read any of McKay’s books that are not about the Casson family? Are they any good?