Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rereading Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

Some books just demand to be reread and revisited. Saffy's Angel, the first of Hilary McKay's five novels featuring the eccentric and lovable Casson children, is that sort of book. (The others in the series are Indigo's Star, Caddy Ever After, Permanent Rose, and Forever Rose.) McKay's writing is the kind that feels effortless enough on the page that you figure it probably wasn't. The color chart pinned up on the kitchen wall is a brilliant extended metaphor, a single image mined for meaning in many ways starting of course with the children being named for paint colors: Cadmium, Indigo, and Rose. The fact that Sarah's wheelchair is just part of her, and we need waste no time feeling sorry on its account. Oh, there is so much to love!

The humor delights me, every single time I return to this wonderful middle grade novel. The driving lesson scenes in Saffy's Angel remain among the finest in these books. They punctuate Saffron's own journey with moments of pure delight, and let the reader slyly in on jokes that fly right past the distraught Caddy. Nor do the successive books let up on this blend of funny and real, crazy and imaginative and lovingly drawn. It's tough to write humor and sustain it through an entire novel. And then through several companion books featuring the same characters, with the later variations in viewpoint and voice. All of which you'd think could dampen the funny factor but it doesn't.

Perhaps, speaking of rereading books, it's no coincidence that McKay notes a hefty list of childhood favorites among her own:
Q: Are there any that you still go back to as an adult?
A: I go back to them all.
Hear an excerpt (Chapter 1 of Saffy's Angel) on NPR.

Oh, and Rose now maintains a blog.


  1. It really is tough to write non-stop, seemingly effortless humor, so much so that I am always very impressed by authors who write entire series that are consistently funny. I've never heard of these books, but I will definitely look out for them.

  2. I think the trick is not to set out to write humor, but to let it grow out of the story and the narrative voice. McKay's books are never forced, and the humor is quite integral to the story.

  3. My son found this book on the discard shelf at our library. I hesitated to get it because it might appeal more to girls, but I kept it so I could read it. I immediately realized McKay's level of writing was superior to another JF author I'd read recently. Every character delighted me. I could imagine this as a very good movie.

  4. LaVonna, I'm so pleased you found the book delightful. The writing is certainly what drew me and continues to draw me back to McKay's work.