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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Binny for Short, written by Hilary McKay. Hodder, Hachette. 2014. $9.99 ages 9 and up

"James was having a wonderful summer. Every morning he woke up fizzing. Every night he fell asleep gloating. The endless days of school and the dingy city flat had almost faded from his mind. They had been replaced by much more interesting things. Sunlight, old ladies, and his private tally of high tide marks on the garden fence.  His wonderful wetsuit. The sea."

Hilary McKay knows how to write a family story that is sure to make you laugh, maybe even cry. In this book about the Cornwallis family, she introduces 'Bin, Bel, Belinda - Binny for short' and a wonderfully eccentric cast of characters who make her life interesting, to say the least.

Binny has experienced two huge losses, and another one for which she feels a particular guilt. Her father dies suddenly, leaving the family without his stories, and bankrupt when all is said and done. Because of their dire straits, Binny has to give up her much loved dog, Max. To top it off, it is her mean and very cranky Aunt Violet who finds another home for him. Binny wishes the worst for Aunt Vi, and tells her so.

When the worst happens and Aunt Violet dies, Binny wonders if it might be her fault. She was, after all, very rude the last time they saw each other. Imagine the family's surprise when they are told that Violet has willed a seaside cottage in Cornwall to Binny, and her family. Binny does not want to go...she is still very angry over the loss of Max.

The chance to begin life anew is a strong draw for the rest, and soon they are off to live in the tiny cottage at the edge of the sea. It brings much needed change to their lives. Binny finds a bit of an enemy in Gareth, the angry and equally lonely boy next door:

"With Gareth nothing was needed. No admiration, no tact, no caution, no politeness, no responsibility in any way. Never before had Binny had such a perfect companion: so handy, so alien, so entirely insensitive that she didn't have to bother about his feelings at all."

She also makes new friends in Ben, who lets Binny help him crew his seal boat (and who is a handsome older boy, to boot), and Ben's sister Kate, who runs a cafĂ© and offers work for both Binny and her sister Clem. Mom finds a job that allows her little brother James to go along; all seems brighter in their world.

The family relationships give this wonderful tale heart and humor. Binny is so angry over the loss of Max, and the author lets her get that anger out in actions and in words. James is a very young boy with eccentricities that made me laugh out loud more than once. Gareth's anger over staying with his father and his future stepmother for the summer is real and heartfelt, and so annoying at times.

Please read it for the charming tale it tells, and meet some of the most memorable characters you are unlikely to meet anywhere. Focused on the Cornwallis family, we grow to love who they are and how they support one another. I can't wait to read more about them. So, I'll be on the lookout for Binny in Secret!

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