opusculasedfera: stack of books, with a mug of tea on top (Default)
[personal profile] opusculasedfera
I'm not really a big YA person (reading about "teenage problems" was boring when I was one of them, hasn't necessarily improved for me in the interim), but several people recced them and I'm really enjoying Hilary McKay's books about the Casson family. I've read Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, and Permanent Rose so far and they've all been really good. Essentially, it's the story of the Casson family: four kids, parents are artists, the untidy but loving environment, etc. The books feel more like family drama than YA (possibly because they're actually written for kids who are a little younger, oddly enough) and I really enjoyed how well she writes adult issues through children's eyes.

She also writes fantastic children, who have that genuine slightly-sociopathic feel where they really haven't worked out other people properly and so might do any number of terrible things because they just can't understand who would be hurt. And yet, they're not bad kids! She manages to write all sorts of cliches without making me hate her including bullied kids becoming less bullied, and bullies becoming decent people, which frankly feels like some sort of miracle given my usual horrified recoil at these particular cliches (My objections are 100% about their depiction in books, not real life: have simply seen them done badly too many times!)

I am also in awe of her depiction of the deeply unsatisfactory father, who is an I R SRS ARTIST type who lives in London without his family because children are too disruptive of Art, for being a completely recognisable picture of that type of intense selfishness. He's not a terrible person, just the kind of person who says "but of course I'm here for you! I always come when you need me!" while never, ever letting his kids inconvenience him or disrupt his "real" life of art and child-free-ness. And it does go in the most obvious direction of him acquiring a new girlfriend without actually telling his children or their mother, but I adore how McKay makes it very clear (despite the POV character at the time being nine and wholly uninterested) that the issue is not that adults split up, it's that he is so very selfish about it. It's a bit on the nose that his new girlfriend dumps him, but she does it not because he should get back together with his wife, but because she realises that it doesn't bode well for his future treatment of her that none of his four kids have ever been to his London flat before, he continuously makes little digs at his wife because what she does isn't "Really Art" (she paints sentimental or domestic pictures), and he pretty clearly expects new gf to be a replacement 'mirror' of the type Virginia Woolf described. But he's definitely not the villain, his children adore him and he really is there for them some of the time, it's just that it's all coupled to very clear insights into how he never ever inconveniences himself for them, even when he is there. I'm not sure I'm being terribly coherent about this, but I was astonished at how well McKay painted this picture of someone who sets off all of my alarm bells, while still not being a villain, and while showing very clearly exactly why these things are dickish things to do. In a kids' book, no less, where adults are usually either perfect or complete bastards.

This is not to say that these are particularly dark books, they're very much about things working out and people being friends and family and caring, even when they're slightly inconsiderate. They never felt preachy to me, even though sometimes children are learning Life Lessons, and the Cassons are impossibly charming, though still very plausible people. The plots seem slight, but the weight of realism in the characters pins them down and makes them something special.

Overall, highly recommended.

Date: 2012-08-29 03:53 am (UTC)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (at the library!)
From: [personal profile] skygiants
I never read the Casson books, but I do have very fond memories of McKay's series about a group of reading-addict sisters who are exiled to the country without *gasp* ANY BOOKS AT ALL.

Date: 2012-10-18 07:55 pm (UTC)
wendelah1: Sally from Peanuts looking at a shelf of books (book geek)
From: [personal profile] wendelah1
I read "Saffy's Angel" a long time ago, so long ago that I don't remember where (a used bookstore in Maine is what comes to mind but oh my how I miss my brain) and remember feeling uncomfortable with it (a little too real?) but your review makes me think I might take another look at the series. I also don't find YA a very satisfying genre for much the same reasons.

I'm adding you to my reading list. I like reading people who make me rethink my opinions.

Date: 2012-12-17 09:00 pm (UTC)
antisoppist: (Reading)
From: [personal profile] antisoppist
Hi. I added you recently and am browsing backwards. I have been reading the Casson books to my kids, who are male and female and 11, 8 and 5, and they work very well. There are things that all the different ages get, and some that only I do, they're entertaining to read aloud even for the adult and they're laugh out loud funny despite dealing with some pretty serious stuff.

You are so right about the depiction of the parents, where it's subtle but clear that Bill operates entirely on charm and neither of them are perfect. Also that Eve is only painting people's dead pets and teaching Young Offenders because it brings in the money, while Bill selfishly swans around being Seriously Now and comes home and flings cash about and sighs at how disorganised it is without ever having to worry about the day to day running of the family.

Date: 2012-12-18 09:09 am (UTC)
antisoppist: (Reading)
From: [personal profile] antisoppist
I asked them over breakfast. That was interesting. 8 year-old son said Bill was "organised and responsible" and 11 year-old daughter said no he wasn't "because he just goes off!" So perhaps there is a level of development after which they get the subtle and emotional stuff. We are halfway through Permanent Rose so they don't know the Saffron Secret yet but they get the flat and the gf. They think Eve is funny but daughter says she is "good as a character but not good as a mother". The five year-old is not yet up to literary analysis but she likes the funny bits.

Son is more focused on the practical aspect where Bill comes home and makes sure there is food in the fridge. And also drawing on our own situation, where I too see parallels, in that I am freelance working from home and it's harder to have/be a parent who is technically present but not actually always available or able to give them full attention than it is to have/be one who is properly away working and then comes back again 100% and magically sorts everything out (but not for very long and not having to bother about the day to day organisational grind). I point out here that I have a currently unemployed husband who does all the cooking and the after school stuff so we are not in fact as neglectful as Eve (although I am jealous of her shed).

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