The Exiles (by Hilary McKay)

It's only last August that I first read a book by Hilary McKay, on recommendation of another blogging book reviewer. I loved 'Saffy's Angel', and determined to get hold of others in the series, and others she had written as well.

I bought 'The Exiles' from Amazon's marketplace last October, but only picked it up to read a couple of days ago, wanting something light, but with little idea what to expect.

The book features the four Conroy sisters, Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe, aged between 13 and 6. They are quite unsophisticated and don't at all like school, but they're not particularly keen on the summer either. Their lives seem rather dull to them, as they never seem to go anywhere or do anything. However, they do read a vast number of books.. and get into various scrapes at school and elsewhere. Then their parents decide to do some house renovations, and the girls are packed off to stay with their rather fearsome grandmother for six weeks.

'Big Grandma' turns out to be less of a dragon than the girls expected, but she does expect her granddaughters to do some chores, to take responsibility for themselves, and to go out for walks whatever the weather. She has no books in the house, other than a few recipe books and a large Shakespeare volume, so they have no idea how they will spend the summer...

I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy this at first. This family didn't have the instant appeal of the Casson family who were introduced in 'Saffy's Angel'. But they grew on me, and I found myself liking the book more and more. The pace is just right, in my view; there's a little light humour, and I liked the way that the girls gradually develop as individuals. Ruth is interested in natural history, Naomi develops an interest in gardening, Rachel starts to think for herself, and Phoebe takes little notice of anyone.

I found that the story as a whole reminded me at times of Noel Streatfeild's 'The Growing Summer', which I haven't read for many years. The four girls grew on me, and felt quite believable in a somewhat caricatured way. The climax of the story was somewhat predictable but exciting nonetheless.. and the ending satisfying.

I shall be looking out for others in this series in the future. Definitely recommended. Suitable for any age, but will probably appeal most to girls of between about eight and twelve.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 13th March 2012

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