Forever Rose (by Hilary McKay)

I came late in life to Hilary McKay. On the recommendation of another book blog, I cautiously bought the first book in the Casson series about a year ago, second-hand. And was hooked. I have gradually acquired the others, and have just finished the fifth and last in the series.

'Forever Rose' is a wonderful book, which ties together a lot of loose ends very nicely, without it feeling forced. . It's all narrated by Rose, the youngest of the family, who is now ten.  Rose's mother Eve has a bad cold that doesn't seem to be getting better, and her father Bill is still living in London. Her brother Indigo seems to be out all the time, Saffron and her friend Sarah are busy doing teenage things, and Caddy hasn't been heard from in a while. She set off across Europe to find Michael, but as far as anyone knows, she hasn't been successful.

So, as Eve has shut herself in her shed to keep germs at bay, Rose often comes home from school to an empty house. Until Indigo's friend David starts turning up, looking for food and friendship, and also somewhere to store his drum kit.

Just to add to Rose's misery, she has a very sarcastic and unpleasant teacher for Year Six. Mr Spencer wants to push the class to do well in their SATS; it seems that he is likely to discover that Rose's only talent is art. She doesn't understand maths, and has never yet managed to get into a book, although none of her family quite realised it. She is still close friends with the unpredictable and brainy Kiran and the dull but worthy Molly..

However, Molly is fed up of being boring, so she wants to do something that isn't dull, and drags Rose and Kiran into it. Meanwhile, Caddy phones out of the blue, sounding quite cheerful, while Eve's cold seems to be getting worse rather than better.

We see all this and a great deal more from Rose's unique and delightful perspective, and somehow, despite my being many years removed from then, it all feels very real. I laughed aloud a couple of times, smiled many more, and felt a tinge of sadness too.  The realities of family life are brilliantly explored; the Cassons could be considered somewhat neglected, but have a great deal of love for each other. And poor David's situation is so much worse.

By the time I was half-way through I was so engrossed I could barely put it down. My only gripe about the book is Rose's insistence that everyone must go to school by law - and her family appear to believe the same thing. If anyone were made for home education (in the unschooling style) it's Rose.

Still, that apart, it's reassuring, encouraging, and realistic.  It finishes off the series nicely - the earlier books being: Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose and Caddy Ever After. I am happy to learn that there is another book about the Cassons, a prequel which covers the worrying time for the family when Rose was a fragile newborn baby - the title is Caddy's World.

This book, as with the others in the series, is intended for girls of between about nine and twelve, but I think it could appeal to anyone of any age, from about six or seven upwards. Highly recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 10th June 2012

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