15/08/2011

Saffy's Angel (by Hilary McKay)

My sons are grown up now, so I'm not really up with current children's literature. Which means that I would probably never have come across Hilary McKay, had it not been for some blog-browsing serendipity a couple of months ago.

I came across the book review site called 'Things Mean a Lot', and in particular a review of Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay. It sounded exactly my kind of book. So, when I was ordering a few other items recently from The Book Depository, with a 10% discount voucher, I added this inexpensive book to my order.

And what a delight it is. Saffy, whose real name is Saffron, is part of a delightfully eccentric and disorganised family. The mother is a rather scatty artist with no sense of time; their father, a more serious artist, regularly escapes to London to get away from the chaos, leaving the children pretty much bringing themselves up.

Saffy discovers something about her past that shocks her when she is just eight years old. Her family tell her that it makes no difference - but it does. Then, a few years later she discovers that she has been left a stone angel in her grandfather's will. Egged on by a new and enthusiastic friend, she sets out to discover where it is....

That brief summary doesn't begin to do justice to the wonderful story, or to the four surprisingly lovable children in the family with their various quirks and different ways of relating. Caddy, the oldest, is learning to drive but not doing very well. She's failed most of her school exams too, but is a caring, empathic big sister. Indigo, a couple of years younger than Saffy (and the only boy in the family) likes lists, and is determined to conquer all his fears in rather dramatic ways. And Rose, the youngest, is an artist like her parents.

There's humour in the book, there's irony, there's pathos... and all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable book. I admit that some of the people are rather caricatured, but I wanted to believe in them, and in the warm relationships that develop despite apparent chaos and strife.

I suppose the book is intended for older children, perhaps the 10-14 age-range, but this is one of those cross-over books that can be read and loved by adults too. I'm pretty sure it would also make a good read-aloud for children of about six or older.

My only faint gripe is that I managed to get hold of the American edition. The cover is much more attractive than the British one, and the price was better too. However, although it had changed some spelling and words correctly (from the US perspective), it had missed others, making it feel inconsistent.

Worse, and bizarrely, it had the very English family using American words when talking, such as 'rotary' when they meant 'roundabout'. While I can understand using US English for the narrative, it becomes unrealistic (and somewhat condescending) when English people suddenly launch into American words!

Still, even that did not detract at all from the warmth and gentleness of this book. I look forward very much to reading the sequel. Highly recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 15th August 2011

1 comment:

Nymeth said...

It makes me very happy to hear I introduced you to Hilary McKay, Sue! Another blogger did the same for me and I'm grateful to this day. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series as much as I did :)