Oh I sure do like Hilary McKay, and I will tell you why. I like Hilary McKay because she doesn’t worry about inventing characters who don’t act and feel the way you tend to think likable characters should act and feel. Michael from Saffy’s Angel can’t be bothered with animals. Rose refuses to politely compliment her father’s art if she doesn’t think it’s any good. Binny from Binny for Short does not feel as sad as she knows she should feel about her father dying, even though he was a good father and she loved him.
Binny for Short is about a girl called Binny. After her father dies, her family is no longer able to keep Binny’s beloved dog Max; and Max goes to her grandmother, then is disposed of (to a loving family) by her awful Aunty Violet. Binny’s wrath about this is uncontainable, and although she works hard to be good to her mother, she holds a terrible grudge against Aunt Violet. It only gets worse when Aunt Violet dies and leaves her Cornwall cottage to Binny’s family. Guilty about her aunt’s death and still resentful of her for taking Max away, Binny makes an enemy of the boy next door, Gareth, and tries to sort out her new life in Cornwall.
Oddly, Binny for Short is more melancholy than the Casson family series, even though Binny is in a totally organized, non-dysfunctional family, and even though it has a happy ending. I checked in with my mother about whether I just found the book melancholy because melancholy things were happening that week, and she agrees that no, this is quite a melancholy book. Binny’s feelings about Max are hugely, unendingly sad, and she is full of anger and guilt. I love Hilary McKay for taking children’s feelings seriously, by the way. Children’s feelings are serious! Even as an adult, understanding the adults’ thought process re: Max, and the reasons that everything went down the way it did, I identified completely with what Binny was feeling all the way through.
Like the Casson books, Binny for Short is funniest when dealing with characters who are sort of matter-of-factly amoral, like Binny’s small brother James (prone to taking off his clothes in public to prove that he’s not a girl) and her sister’s best friend’s brother (does no favors for recent half-orphan friends of his sister). Rose Casson is this way in a lot of areas of her life (but not in many other very important areas! of course!), and it’s what makes her such a fun character to read.
Lovely Legal Sister bought this book from the UK for Mumsy’s birthday, and I sneakily read it when I was home for a visit. If you are based in America, you won’t regret buying it early from the Book Depository (the UK cover is much nicer); or you can wait until it comes out in the US on 23 July 2013. And if you haven’t read the Casson books, the first of which is Saffy’s Angel, may I also highly recommend that you get on that? You won’t regret it. You haven’t missed the window.