The Positively Last Performance by Geraldine McCaughrean

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The Positively Last Performance by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Gracie has come to Seashaw with her parents who hope to restore the old theatre there to its former glory. But many dangers threaten the Royal Theatre: can Gracie and her new, formerly alive friends save it?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 255 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Oxford
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780192733207

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Longlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Gracie absolutely loves Seashaw. She has many happy memories of holidays in the faded resort (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Margate) and she is delighted when her parents, who are actors, decide to move there for good. Their plan is to take over the old theatre, which has been abandoned for years, and do it up—as long as they can get a grant or two to fund the work. They are understandably busy with surveyors and town officials, and it's no surprise to Gracie that she's left pretty much to her own devices. Besides, she's just discovered something extraordinary: she can see ghosts.

In fact, like all theatres, the place is teeming with them. It's a quiet, shabby place which hasn't been troubled by the living for years, and those who have yet to pass on to whatever's next find it a safe, comforting place of refuge. Several of the inhabitants trod the boards in their lifetimes, and each night they put on a performance for the others. Existence is gentle and timeless, and as they never go beyond the stage door, changes in the world outside do not worry them. Then, suddenly a noisy, questioning, pushy child erupts into their midst and insists they each tell the story of how they came to be there. She wheedles and prods, refusing to be put off, and we soon learn that although some of them have been drifting around the old building for centuries, no one has ever shared the story of their death with the others before. In fact some of them, like fifteen-year-old Mikey the Mod, have never accepted that they really are dead: he's convinced himself he's just waiting until the Rockers who trashed the town and chased him up that alley give up and go home. And then Gracie goes even further. She persuades the ghosts, one by one, to brave the outside world to see how life has changed.

Geraldine McCaughrean makes no secret of the parallels between her book and Margate, though she is careful to insist she has altered many details. Mods and Rockers really did battle it out on Margate seafront, and the town has a wonderful fun fair which was allowed to fade into dismal dilapidation but which is now being restored. A terrible storm and tidal surge did destroy lives and property two centuries ago, and there is, of course, a famous grotto lined with shells. And, most movingly of all perhaps, Seashaw, like its real-life model, is described by an artist as having the loveliest skies of any space on earth.

The author has a lot of fun with the reactions of the timid ghosts when they eventually step outside and see what has become of their town. Where are the bathing machines? How did those tiny actors get inside the boxes Gracie calls televisions? The older inhabitants thoroughly dislike the cinema, which isn't a patch on a proper, well-rehearsed live performance, and Mikey is distressed by the fact that he died before he got a chance to taste pizza. Most gloriously of all, she introduces the spirits of several donkeys who disport themselves on the sands, going where they will and taking a significant part in the final drama.

Geraldine McCaughrean is rightly known as one of our best authors, and this book does not disappoint. It is funny and touching, true-to-life and whimsical, sad and warm-hearted. It is beautifully written, managing to combine tragedy and comedy in one satisfying whole, and it deserves to become a classic.

Geraldine McCaughrean is one of those rare authors who write successfully in several different genres. For this age group Bookbag has several enthusiastic recommendations: try The Death Defying Pepper Roux, Stop the Train, Pull Out All the Stops!, Pittipat's Saucer of Moon and, of course, Peter Pan in Scarlet.

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