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Review: The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

When 11-year-old Abigails’ widowed father Theo combines families with his new wife Polly and her two boys, Max, 13 and Louis, aged 6, Abi is less than pleased. Max is bad-tempered, clearly with a chip on his shoulder and Louis, who immediately adores Abi and tries too hard to gain her love back. And he has no sense of privacy, invading her space at every available moment. And her beloved Granny Grace has moved back to Jamaica, leaving Abi feeling a new loneliness, in spite of the letters they frequently exchange. A new home with room for them all is desperately required. Finding an old, unusual house they can just about afford; if Theo takes extra shifts at the hospital and Polly resumes travelling for work; they find the extra space where they can have a bit of peace.

But it isn’t long before Abi, Max and Louis, discover strange things happen when they are alone in their eerie, ivy-covered home. Their busy parents, struggling to keep them all afloat, see nothing amiss. But Abi, reading alone, finds herself tumbling deep into books, quite literally. She emerges from The Kon-Tiki Expedition to discover the book damp, salty; a flash of green wing speeds past and a mysterious seashell is left behind. Max, older, more determined to be realistic and keep himself apart from the others, starts to see shapes in the shadows that simply cannot be there. Young Louis summons a startling feline guest through his bedroom window, who grows at an alarming rate; too quickly and aggressively for him to keep secret and manage alone. He needs Max and Abi’s help, even if he can’t see it himself. Can they find out where the mysterious creature has come from and, more to the point how to get it back there before tragedy occurs?

A beautiful testament to blended families, changing times and the power of stories, books and pictures, The Time of Green Magic sings. Alive with characterisation, the reader is taken on a journey through a moment in time where three children are learning the intricacies of relationship and family life. The sense of a rapidly shifting personal world and the struggle to grasp at it while still holding onto their own selves is portrayed through each of the childrens’ eyes with sympathy, understanding and genuine voice. The descriptive quality of McKay’s writing vividly paints images of their lives, separately and together, while wrapping the story around the reader with cosy, warm comfort…but not too much comfort. As the plot develops, you are pulled through with an unsettling fascination; moved with emotion and empathy. And what a story it is! Full of wonder, impossibility, and the textures of both imagination and the mostly-happy chaos of family life combine to create something that is truly memorable. Wise, quietly powerful, full of heart and feeling…and irresistably magical.

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