Tuesday, August 19, 2008

As the Cassons Go Rolling Along (aka Rosy Pose Makes Me Laugh)

I'm not doing a proper blog entry on this book because (in our library, anyhow), it's not YA. But Hilary McKay's books about the Casson family are so much fun that it would be a shame for people to miss them just because of that. I really shouldn't quote from Forever Rose because it's the fifth (last? I hope not, but maybe) book in the series, and you really must read them in order, starting with Saffy's Angel. But I'm going to anyhow. But first, the cast of characters:

  1. Bill (Rose's father) has been living in London for the past three books. I don't like him much, but I think he's trying to redeem himself in this book.
  2. Rose's mother is an artist (though Bill says what she does isn't Art - just one more reason not to like him!) and a bit vague about an awful lot of things. Such as her children.
  3. Caddy is the eldest. Much has been written about Caddy's love life. Caddy is lovely and sweet, but she's an idiot when it comes to love.
  4. Saffy is Rose's sister/cousin. Very competent and intelligent and very down to earth, which is pretty much how you know she's not a full-on Casson. :)
  5. Indigo is Rose's brother. Once meek and bullied, Indigo has come a long way.
  6. Rose is Rose is Rose. Artistic, stubborn, independent, fiercely loving, unknowingly funny, and a keen observer. Age 11, but only chronologically.
  7. Sarah, David, Tom: all friends of the family who might as well be family.
  8. Molly and Kiran: Rose's friends, who are a bit more level-headed than she. Even if Molly does convince them to spend the night at the Zoo so that nobody will think she's boring.
  9. Michael. See #3

This is how Rose observes the world:

School is no longer a peaceful place where you can catch up on your daydreaming, forget your family (or what is left of your family), and talk about things like Dr. Who and how to stop Global Warming (we all know how but we don't stop it) and if it is okay for boys to wear pink and all those other things we talk about. School, says Mr. Spencer, is an educational establishment...These new ideas do not stay in my head very well, they drift away and before I know it I am back in the good-old-days ways, staring out the window. (p.1)

But Mr. Spencer, who had swung round from the board to shout at me, turned his back in a very deliberate way and carried on writing. "I wasn't doing anything!" I protested to his back, because we have learned to put up with Mr. Spencer's bad manners here in Class 6. (p. 3)

(Rose, seeing David approaching the house, hides behind the couch instead of letting him in. But David comes in anyhow. He sits on the couch and begins to cry.) What a strange thing to do, to go to someone's house, and sit in an empty room that is not yours, and make such a noise. I crawled out to have a look. Poor David. His face was in his dripping hands. He was crying and rubbing away tears, but not as fast as they poured down his big red cheeks. Poor poor David. I tried very hard to make myself care as much as I should. It was very difficult, because he looked such a mess...I moved my favorite green cushion out of reach of the flood. (pp. 41-42.)

...I was able to get rid of the guilt by giving (David) a handkerchief with a pink rose in the corner to use to dab his eyes (I have a whole lot of rose handkerchiefs that I keep specially for crying with. I like to cry on something proper. It feels so sad and interesting, dabbing your eyes on a real white hanky. But they are no good for noses.) I gave David the downstairs toilet roll for his nose (Economy Peach). (p. 46)

(Rose, Molly, and Kiran are spending the night at the zoo. They have brought along a very thick book by naturalist David Attenborough.) I wished I knew where a tiger's weak point was. I asked Molly, as casually as I could, because I didn't want to frighten her, if she happened to have any idea. Molly said she thought she had read somewhere that they have very sensitive digestions.
This means that if there is a tiger on the loose I am going to have to make him
David Attenborough.
If you ask me
It's about time someone did. (pp. 215-216)

Also in fairy stories there are hardly any of those half-good half-bad people who crop up so constantly in real life and are so hard to believe in. (p. 246)

Tonight is the school Nativity play performed by Class 1 with an awful lot of help from the rest of the world because Class 1 can do nothing unaided. Mary and Joseph are the worst of the lot. If the real Mary and Joseph were anything like our Mary and Joseph there would be no Christmas because Christianity would have got no further than a big fight over who got the donkey somewhere along the road to Bethlehem. (p. 257)

If any of that struck you as funny, there's a whole lot more where that came from. At the same time, the Casson series isn't just funny. The Cassons deal with some real issues (divorce, bullying, adoption, love, children alienated from their families), sometimes with more bluntness than I expect (which may be one reason that some libraries place them in their YA area), but always with great heart. Honestly, you're missing something if you haven't read a Hilary McKay book.

My personal feeling, despite where they are placed in my library, is that the audience for this series is grades 5-8 and any discerning adult readers who aren't foolish enough to believe that they're too old for them.

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