Caddy Ever After, the fourth entry in Hilary McKay’s wonderful series about the Casson family, is a little more fragmented than the other novels. It’s told in pieces, with each of the four children narrating in turn. At first, the different stories and perspectives seem to be a bit disjointed. It can be hard to see how Rose’s story of how the worst thing in the world happens to her (she is so frightened at a ghost story told to her by a classmate that she wets herself — how on earth is she going to live that down?) is connected to the Valentine’s Day disco at Indigo’s school.
But despite appearances, everything is connected in this novel, just as everyone in the unusual Casson family is connected. (The Cassons militate against Tolstoy: they are a happy family, but they are very much happy in their own way.) Rose’s valentines — all for their American friend Tom, really — spark Indigo’s idea about how to take Sarah to the disco, an event she was previously unable to attend because of her wheelchair. Indigo’s idea leads to everyone at the disco getting sick, including — frighteningly — Sarah. The disco also leads to Saffy’s new boyfriend, Oscar, which is all right until Oscar abandons her and Rose on a moor, whence they are rescued by Oscar’s brother Alex, and when Caddy sees Alex for the first time, she knows he’s The One — except that everyone except Caddy knows that Darling Michael is, and always has been, The One for Caddy, and it’s left to Rose to prevent disaster. And needless to say (?), there are also scary balloons, feral guinea pigs, yellow-and-scarlet wedding dresses, and a life-size cutout of Justin Bieber to deal with.
Everything comes together beautifully in the end. I even approved of Bill, the Casson family father’s, behavior, and ordinarily he irritates me terribly. I love McKay’s writing and her sharp and loving view of her characters, as usual. Here are two of the children’s piercing insights into Sarah’s mother, who loves her wheelchair-bound daughter fiercely and has to try hard not to be overprotective. From Indigo:
So Sarah uses a wheelchair to get about. Actually, she uses a lot of wheelchairs because her family are rich and her mother is always finding new models that are lighter, or easier to fold, or safer, or something or other. And the day they bring out a solar powered, micro-chipped-so-the-occupant-is-never-lost, weight free, totally invisible model that allows the owner unrestricted movement in every direction, with a special happiness function that is permanently switched on, that day, Sarah’s mother will stop buying wheelchairs for Sarah.
And from Saffy, when she goes to visit her friend and Sarah’s mother is being (very unusually) unwelcoming because Sarah has become very ill indeed:
Sarah’s mother is very nice. I understood that to her, these days were not real life.
These books succeed at what I like best in literature, whether adult or young adult or children’s: they are funny and poignant at once. I’ll keep reading about the Cassons until there aren’t any more, and then I’ll keep seeking McKay out as long as she’s writing.