Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

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Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: When Binny's father died, leaving the family bereft and very short of money, she sought comfort in the companionship of her exceedingly lively young dog. But Aunt Violet secretly got rid of Max, and even the fact that she later left her sea-side home to her family in her will can't persuade Binny to forgive the horrible old woman.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 292 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781444900545

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Longlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal

It can be quite risky to start a book with what is almost the final scene, especially for younger readers. Prize-winning author Hilary McKay, however, writes with such a sure hand that by the time the end comes round for the second time everything has dovetailed beautifully and is yet, somehow, full of surprises. In fact, it is a sure bet that many readers will want to immediately return to the beginning and read the book again, just to see how she does it.

And re-reading this book will bring many rewards. It is a witty, charming story peopled with likeable characters who are so well-drawn that you feel you would recognise them if you met them in the street. Binny herself is determined to the point of stubbornness, but she is still a generous and willing girl who happily helps out at home and tries not to complain about the family's sudden descent into near-poverty. Her older sister Clem leads her own life to some extent, naturally enough, but she is kindly and attentive and always ready to lend a sympathetic ear when Binny is scared or upset. And six-year-old James is a true eccentric in the making, happily experimenting with concoctions which may or may not be poisonous, and demonstrating from the start a decidedly elastic attitude to other people's property rights. Add to that a marvellous setting on the coast plus a new enemy-friend who provides Binny with a whole summer of squabbling and crazy dares, and the stage is set for some hilarious but utterly believable adventures.

There's plenty of death in this story, but it is never maudlin or melodramatic. Apart from Binny herself, who comes very close to drowning, the family loses Binny's father, her granny and then Aunt Violet herself. Although . . . has the high-handed and bossy aunt actually gone? Completely, that is? Poor Binny is convinced she is being haunted as a punishment by the old woman for some unkind words she once uttered, and there are some half-funny, half-scary scenes which will give even the most down-to-earth young reader pause for thought.

But this isn't in any way a sad or frightening book. Death is part of life, regrettable but nonetheless natural, and what the reader takes away from the story is a lasting impression of warmth, wit and good humour. There is an unhappy family in the book, but only because they haven't yet learned how to listen to each other, and Binny's mother and siblings demonstrate a close and cheerful affection which many readers will envy. There are problems, of course, but the author handles them with gentle delicacy, and she is always careful to show the funny side of every situation too. This book is optimistic, clever, beautifully written and very, very amusing. It really is a book you shouldn't miss.

Hilary McKay is one of those special authors whose books appeal to a wide age-range of readers from about eight to eighteen and beyond. Bookbag particularly recommends Forever Rose, and The Exiles, both of which look at families with wit, fondness and wisdom. And we have an interview with the author herself on the website, too. You might also enjoy Binny in Secret by Hilary McKay.

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