When Rose Casson was born, it seemed for a while that she might not stay in this world. Her older siblings were named for paint colors (Cadmium, Saffron, Indigo), and so Rose’s mother, Eve, wanted to find the right name for a fragile baby. Permanent Rose, she thought, that’s it. And that’s what (to Bill’s utter chagrin) went on the birth certificate and all subsequent documentation. And Rose stayed, and was as firm about it as could possibly be desired.
In this installment of the Casson family saga, people are still recovering from the emotional earthquake that occurred in the last book, Indigo’s Star. Tom, the American best friend of Indigo and Rose, has been unceremoniously whisked off to the United States to be with his fragile baby sister, and they don’t have a way to contact him. This has left a howling void, with which Indigo seems to be coping and with which Rose is Not Coping At All. David, who bullied Indigo just last school year but has now reformed in a lumpy, genial, clumsy sort of way, wants to be friends; Indigo cautiously thinks perhaps, and Rose thinks NO WAY. (David knows misbehavior based on heartbreak better than Rose wishes he did.) Saffron and Sarah are searching for Saffron’s biological father, and (hilariously) “cultivating hearts of stone.” And Caddy is engaged to darling Michael, and having second, and third, and fourth thoughts about it.
The chaos of the Cassons is the joy of them. At first, it looks like they’re all individual ping-pong balls bouncing around, doing their own thing in isolation. In this book in particular, we see most situations from Rose’s perspective, and she has such a different perspective from most people that it’s easy to imagine her just going her own way alone. But in fact, this family is deeply connected, not just to each other, but to friends like Tom and Sarah and darling Michael (and, reluctantly, David.) They extend love and gifts and terrible meals and drinks and disastrous birthday cakes and guinea pigs and sometimes transatlantic flights. People don’t get lost with the Cassons. They get found.
One of the parts I liked best about this book was Rose’s effort to understand reading. Rose is an artist — a real artist, unlike her father, and not very like her mother either. She sees the world in graphic terms. She can’t read well at all; the words get all squiggly and she gets limply bored at the sight of a page. But Indigo hooks her by reading bits of the Morte d’Arthur aloud to her, and she tries and tries and tries to get at it herself. Where are the pictures that come alive in her head? She can’t find them. But she wants them. And what Rose wants, Rose gets.
If you haven’t read this series yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. It’s the loveliest thing. If you read them, tell me your take on Bill. I haven’t got a grip on him yet. But do read them, do.