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The Casson Family Series, by Hilary McKay

Thank you, lady_schrapnell, because without your recommendation I might not have tried these books and I would have missed out on a treat. I also seem to remember sartorias raving about Forever Rose, so thank you, too.

I wish the Cassons lived next door to me because I love them.

They appear in a five-book series, beginning with Saffy's Angel and ending with Forever Rose, which I think is my favourite of them all. I guess they are aimed at middle readers, though the later ones could stretch easily into the YA audience (or the 50 plus audience, ha ha). They are all delightful, the best kind of reading experience - funny, sweet without being sentimental, thoughtful, observant. They are "feel good" books without the sappiness that term sometimes implies or involves.

In Saffy's Angel, we meet Eve and Bill, both artists, and their children all named after colours of paint: Caddy (Cadmium), Indigo, Rose (Permanent Rose). Saffy is for Saffron, and she is a cousin but lives with the family after her mother's death. Over the course of the series, we also meet memorable friends and followers: Sarah, the girl who runs over Saffy in her wheelchair and becomes her best friend, Indigo's friends Tom and the lumpish and strangely charming David, "Darling" Michael the driving instructor who is in love with Caddy. If the books are "about" anything, they are about family life and relationships and growing up and identity - big important issues dealt with in anything but a heavy-handed way.

These issues are mostly presented through Rose's point of view - the last is entirely in Rose's inimitable voice - and McKay controls the pov brilliantly. One of the things that I like best about the books is the way you discover things casually, almost as an aside. We learn through people's reactions to things rather than being told directly (the perfect show rather than tell). For example, it takes about two, possibly even three, books before we learn the true state of Bill and Eve's relationship; the penny drops for us at the same time as it does for Rose (maybe readers more astute than I figured it out earlier, but you get the idea). The humour arises from keen observation of people's behavior, but is never unkind, even when directed at the awful teacher, Mr Spencer, whose "flesh coloured moustache spread hairily into the shape of a smile" when he asks the children to describe the worst thing they have ever done. Here's another example:
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.
Or there's the moment when Rose talks about how her older brother and sisters are growing up and away from her and she wants to call out "wait for me" like she did when they walked too fast for her: "They always turned back then, however much of a hurry they were in, but I do not think they can turn back now."

I just can't say too much about how likeable the characters are, and how much fun the books are. I was happy to spend time with them, and sorry now that the series is finished. Maybe we'll get one about Buttercup? Do you think? Dare we hope?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 17th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
I think I too owe lady_schrapnell for this series! They are a complete joy. I also loved her "exile" books, maybe they might alleviate your lack of Casson-ness.
Jul. 17th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC)
Jul. 17th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
Well you have raved about it, but in a why-isn't-out-in-the-USA kind of way :) Which is its own form of advertising for the series!
Jul. 17th, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, they are a marvelous, marvelous family. Warm without being sappy, odd and original without being posers or twee--just wonderful.
Jul. 17th, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
(They also made me feel less bad about my messy house)
Jul. 17th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
You have made me a very happy woman by this post!

It seems horrible to pay you back by diminishing your hope of more books, but I haven't seen McKay say anything to indicate she'd changed her mind after she said she was going to wrap the series up with Forever Rose, alas. It's a glorious ending to the series, though, isn't it? The scene in Forever Rose where Rose manages to light the fire by herself, and sits back feeling proud and independent, and then realises what it might mean if the others do learn she can do it herself and desperately puts it out... Just amazing writing.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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