Fuse #8

Friday, December 08, 2006

Review of the Day: Caddy Ever After

Caddy Ever After by Hilary McKay. Margaret K. McElderry (a Simon & Schuster imprint). $10.95.

If you like Hilary McKay’s Casson stories then “Caddy Ever After” is (so far) the best of the bunch. I do not make such pronouncements lightly. To be perfectly honest with you, until I read “Caddy Ever After” I was not a fan of the series. Say such a thing in a room full of children’s librarians and you’re liable to be pelted with small squares of cheese until you relent and say that “Saffy’s Angel” is sublime. The fact of the matter is, though, that prior to “Caddy Ever After” I had resigned myself to a lifetime of not understanding what all the fuss was about. I have a very low precocious tolerance, and McKay too often tips the balance. With “Caddy Ever After”, however, the characters we’ve met in past books are older but fairly unchanged. Indigo is still his own man. Saffy still has Sarah. Caddy still refers to Michael as “Darling” (though she claims to no longer love him). And Rose is still Rose. The essential structure of the series remains the same. The format has simply grown more expansive and the story more enticing.

Four kids. Four stories. It all began, in a way, when Rose peed on the classroom rug after an unexpected fright. Then Indigo donated his CD collection for the school dance. Which in turn led to everyone in the school getting sick, including Saffy’s best friend Sarah. Still, an unexpected benefit was that Saffy started dating a guy named Oscar ... well, until he managed to abandon her and Rose in the dead of winter. Which, in turn, led to their rescue by Oscar’s brother Alex. And when Alex and Caddy met, that eventually led to her decision that he must be “the one”. In spite of her family’s objections and the fact that Darling Michael is still obsessed with her, Caddy has convinced herself that this marriage is exactly what the doctor ordered. It's going to take some work on Rose's part to successfully upend a major disaster.

I guess my problem with the Casson books began with a problem with the Casson parents. Poor parenting in literature doesn’t get my goat unless the books refuse to acknowledge how badly the parents are handling their offspring. In “Saffy’s Angel”, I saw two bad parents that could drive the reader nuts in entirely different ways. As the kids in the books became more independent my irritation then switched to precocious Rose. But now, it’s finally evened out, and the way in which McKay chose to tell this particular story is great. Each character gets their own separate section. Rose gets her twice, but you won't begrudge her the extra page time. Interetingly enough, title may be, “Caddy Ever After”, but Caddy’s section feels like the shortest of the lot.

One of the charms of the series is the use of thoroughly British references to things like “Sir Cliff” and bogs. At the same time, it looks as if the publisher changed a couple Britishims here and there. For example, at one point the girls are eating smoky bacon potato chips. The book calls them “chips” rather than “crisps”, which is interesting. I doubt any kid reading it would notice, but it did feel a little out-of-whack (especially since I assumed they meant "chips" as in "fries"). And sometimes the book has passages that don’t make a lot of sense. There’s a mention of government inspectors who beamed down “from the rose-colored planet” that, after multiple readings, still doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

But there’s a lot to like about the book. McKay’s eye for unspoken truths is remarkable. At one point Saffy’s dating a guy that’s a little … off. When the couple run into her mother and sister she says, “I couldn’t help wondering which of the three of them would disgrace me first.” McKay has the ability to locate the truth and then hammer on it for all she's worth. Likewise there was an especially fabulous line when Sarah’s mother becomes overprotective as her daughter becomes ill. Saffy, who under normal circumstances likes her friend's mom quite a lot, reasons that, “Sarah’s mother is very nice. I understood that to her these days were not real life”.

Extra points for Caddy’s wedding dress, by the way. Here is the description, “I told her that Caddy’s dress was very, very pale yellow, and that she was having orange and yellow and scarlet flowers in her hair and to carry, and a veil with tiny beads the same color, and scarlet and orange shoes to match.” My soul regret, after reading this, was that I was already married and couldn't fashion my wedding dress exactly after Caddy's at this point in my life. Let me not forget to pay homage to the book's humor. Much of it relies on the E.L. Konigsburg world of smarter-than-average children who speak like wry 50-year-old dowagers. That's all right, though. Kids like this do exist in the world, though rarely in such concentrated masses. And finally, the star-shaped balloon from hell was so interesting that I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Balloons are creepy, and McKay’s successfully pinned down that fear.

I guess that's what's so great about the book. McKay pins down the heart of funny situations, unreasonable (and reasonable) fears, and the truth that lies at the core of everyday happenings. So take it from someone who's difficult to sway. If you loved the series, hated the series, or have been completely unfamiliar with the series until now, you will enjoy "Caddy Ever After". I can't believe I'm saying this, but I cannot wait for the next book to be published in America. This book has converted the unconvertable.


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