Caddy's World (by Hilary McKay)

It's hard to believe that it's only a year ago when I first read a book by Hilary McKay. The book Saffy's Angel, for older children, totally enchanted me, and over the year I gradually collected and read the other four in the series: Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After, and then Forever Rose, which ties up most of the loose ends.

I was rather sad at the end, realising that the series had come to a conclusion and that there would not be any more Casson books. So I was delighted to discover that I was wrong - there was, in fact, a prequel: Caddy's World.  I was even more pleased to find an excellent condition hardback edition available from Play Traders, the second-hand part of Play.com.

I've just finished reading this wonderful book, which is set five years earlier than 'Saffy's Angel'. Caddy is 12, and part of an inseparable group of four friends. A new baby arrives in the Casson family and has to stay in hospital, her life in the balance, along with her mother Eve; so Caddy's father Bill comes back from London and attempts to organise his bohemian and chaotic household.. .with some amusing results.

There's a very sympathetic portrayal of Caddy herself, gradually maturing. She is courageous on the outside but full of fears on the inside. Her brainy friend Ruby has an internal battle too, not wanting to seem so much brighter than her friends, avoiding extra classes and trying to give up on the reading she loves. Beth, the 'perfect' one in their circle, doesn't feel perfect at all because she's growing so fast. And then there's Alison, who lives next door to the Cassons and doesn't like anyone much... The four girls, who have been best friends since they were five, find a lot of changes in their lives during the course of the book.

The writing is paced exactly right, in my view. There's some low-key humour, much of it from five-year-old Indigo and six-year-old Saffy, as well as from a new heartthrob in Caddy's school. And there are some very moving sections in the book too. Hilary McKay has a great understanding of human nature and a tremendous gift at putting it across in ways that work for both children and adults.

Since this is written as a prequel, rather than being the first book in the series, we know that the baby is going to be all right... yet the situation is still tense, and there are some unexpected issues that don't get resolved until the end. It could easily be read as a standalone book, in which case the outcome could seem potentially very worrying.

I loved this story, almost as much as I loved 'Saffy's Angel'. It's intended for children of about eight or nine and upwards and would probably appeal more to girls than to boys.

Just one warning: concerned parents should note that there are several instances of a minor swear word, mostly used for effect by the smaller children.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 26th July 2012

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