The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
Template:Infoboxsort When fourteen year old Laura Chant sees the strange face looking back at her from the mirror one morning, she knows that her family faces a terrible danger. Laura is a "sensitive" - she has premonitions and an awareness of magical powers. She has already recognised Sorensen Carlisle, an older pupil at her school, as a witch and she has already foreseen the break up of her parents marriage. So, when sinister shopkeeper Carmody Braque "brands" her little brother, Jacko, and Jacko falls seriously ill with a mysterious wasting disease, Laura knows that doctors can't save him. She must turn to the Carlisle family for help.
Some books just stand head and shoulders above the rest, don't they? The Changeover is one such. Part fantasy thriller, part kitchen sink drama and part teenage love story, its various elements segue seamlessly into one another and create an atmospheric novel you simply can't put down. It absolutely bristles with tensions - there is the fear for Jacko's life, the conflict between Laura and her mother Kate, jealousy and an absolutely pulsating sexual tension between Laura and Sorensen. Even as a jaded adult, I just couldn't stop reading, and when I got to the end, I turned straight back to the first page and read the book all over again in just one reading. If I had first read The Changeover as a young teen, I'd probably have worn out the pages before I put it down.
Laura is a strong, ballsy character, full of determination, but beset by all those teenage insecurities. She's attracted to Sorensen, but afraid of him too. She loves her mother and is jealous of new boyfriends, wanting to protect her strong family unit from interlopers, but she also wants to grow up and be free of it. To free her brother from the evil spirit lurking inside of Carmody Braque, Laura must decide to changeover - to mature from a sensitive into a fully-fledged witch. This is, of course, a metaphor for Laura's transition from child to adult and Mahy handles it superbly. The progression in the book is a pace back for every two paces forward, just as it is in life.
The Changeover is probably a book for the older child. Pre-adolescents will miss much of the underlying tension and although its structure and plot would probably hold them, it's a passionate, electric read better suited to teenagers who can identify with the way Laura's emotions veer wildly one from one moment to the next. There is also a great deal of complex imagery to take in. As a coming of age story for the older child, though, I can't think of a better choice.
First published in 1994, when it won the Carnegie Medal, and given this welcome reissue by Harper Collins, The Changeover gets a full five star rating from Bookbag. Don't miss it.
Thanks to Harper Collins for sending the book.
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