Thanks to the wise recommendations of Other Jenny, I am now completely hooked on Hilary McKay. I started out with her books about the Casson family (highly, highly recommended, and I’m not done with them yet because I don’t really want to have finished them,) but I’m branching out: when I saw McKay’s new book, Binny for Short, on the shelf at the library, I snapped it up and looked around to see if anyone was going to take it out of my hands. (They weren’t.)
Binny for Short begins with a sort of emotional tsunami, which has repercussions through the rest of the book. Binny’s father dies, and her family is left with no income to speak of. This leads to Binny’s second devastating loss, which may not look as important as the first, but feels that way: she can’t keep her loud, loving, disorderly dog Max in their tiny new apartment, so Max goes to live with Granny. But Granny can’t really handle Max either, so the unsympathetic Aunty Violet does what’s necessary and sends Max to a new home somewhere — no one knows where. Later, at Granny’s funeral, Binny’s anger at Aunty Violet overflows into loud, furious words, and something quite unexpected ensues: a few months later, Aunty Violet dies and leaves Binny and her family a small house by the sea.
Most of the book isn’t about this setup, it’s about the ripples and waves that come afterward. Even two years later, Binny still hopes against any reasonable explanations adults can give her that she might find Max again one day. The small house by the seaside is a godsend for her family, but Binny doesn’t want to live there: she’s convinced she killed Aunty Violet simply by wishing she was dead, and feels (not unreasonably) haunted. Binny and her family (mother, older sister Clem and incredibly naughty younger brother James) make friends in town (and Binny makes an enemy, too) and life goes on. The mother finds a job, James tries to convince his family that he ought to have chickens in the back yard, and Binny develops an enormous crush on Liam, who runs a motorboat out to see the seals. And Gareth, the boy next door (who loathes his father’s girlfriend and Binny and the motorboat and everything else in life this summer) turns out to be a bit different than he seemed on sight.
This was a wonderful book. Hilary McKay is so, so good at many things, but these few things in particular: she is very very good at the way unhappiness is part of life, how you can sometimes be unhappy, maybe even really terribly unhappy, but you have to keep on eating and going to school and talking to your family anyway. She deals with the way people may think you’ve stopped being unhappy because you’re going on with your life and even having fun with it, but all the time the unhappiness continues to one degree or another, until you’ve taken steps to uproot the problem. She is very good at the way children (and many adults) have not yet discovered that people are different from each other and see things differently, and that this discovery can be bewildering and even hurtful. She is especially good at families: those molecules in which wildly different atoms are pushing away from each other and bonding tightly to each other all at the same time; the way things are communicated in shorthand, or without words; the way jokes are sometimes perfect and sometimes Not Funny At All.
My only criticism of this book is that it’s a little lopsided. We get most of the book from Binny’s perspective, and a good chunk of it from James’s, and even a little of it from Gareth’s. I really wanted to see things from Clem’s point of view, if possible, and maybe even from the mother’s. I feel it would have rounded things out. But I suppose “I wanted even more of this book than I got” is not really a criticism, per se, is it?
What should I read next of hers, besides finishing the Casson family books? I’m game for anything she’s written! What have you all read of hers that I should try?