I am mournful to say that this is the first book by Hilary McKay that I haven’t adored. In fact, it’s the first book in yonks that I’ve had to adopt my friend Other Jenny’s practice and Read the End before I Read the Middle, because I was so anxious about the characters.
Note: this is probably just a character quirk. I do not tend to like books in which my favorite characters suffer inner torment because they are keeping an unnecessary secret. I like it when characters speak up more or less right away and use their words, and everyone knows what’s going on, and if emotional suffering still happens after that (as it often does), then at least all the cards are on the table and we’ve acted like grownups. This is not to say that I don’t like it when villains keep secrets! That’s what villains do! Or that I don’t understand that sometimes secrets are necessary! That happens in life (or, say, in the spy community)! But let’s just say that most of Romeo and Juliet would have been totally obviated if there had been a couple of honest conversations, that’s all.
Binny in Secret (note the ominous title) is the sequel to Binny for Short, a book I absolutely loved. In this installment, the roof comes off the Cornwallis home and the family has to move into temporary lodgings at the other end of town. Binny has to go to a new school with a uniform she loathes, and all the kids hate her and start a bullying campaign. She keeps this secret because her mother seems distracted and unhappy. (!) The only thing that takes her mind off it is that she’s found a mysterious animal down by the railway tunnel, and she takes it into her mind that she has to keep the animal completely secret in order for it to be safe. (!!) She also finds evidence that three kids lived in that house a hundred years ago, and created a sort of natural history museum there. We get flashbacks to those three kids, Clarry, Rupert, and Peter, and their story. Those flashbacks, which have real emotional weight and significance, were my very favorite part of this book.
This book was in fact very good. It has all sorts of internal resonance: feelings kept inside because they are too strong to be expressed; siblings who love each other hugely and sometimes can’t bear each other another moment; the terrible feeling when we’ve said the wrong thing but can’t take it back; the desperate need to keep something safe when we aren’t safe ourselves. But I wanted so badly for Binny to tell her secrets and let someone help her that I was unhappy for a lot of the book. I strongly, strongly recommend you read Hilary McKay and try her for yourself, though. She’s such a wonderful writer, and I’m going to keep reading her forever.