The Exiles by Hilary McKay

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The Exiles by Hilary McKay

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A welcome new outing for this funny story of four sisters packed off to spend the summer with a fearsome grandmother. Beautifully observed and full of dry wit, it repays more with each reading. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0340950517

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Ah, you have to love a book that makes you laugh, don't you? I missed out on The Exiles when it was first published in 1991 - too old to buy children's books on my own behalf and too young to have children of my own to buy them for. And I really did miss out. The four Conroy girls are utterly hilarious. Saddled with well-meaning but rather ineffectual parents who won't drive cars or own televisions, they rely largely on books for entertainment and their overfed imaginations lead them to make a virtue of their differences from their peers. They refuse to conform. Phoebe, Rachel, Naomi and Ruth leave a trail of devastation behind them wherever they go. From bee stings to paint stains, they are hard work all round.

When Mr and Mrs Conroy come into an inheritance, the girls are overjoyed. They work out their share and are determined to spend it, with nary a thought to the good of the household. Imagine their fury then, when their parents earmark the entire sum for house renovation and, to add insult to injury, pack them off to stay for the entire summer with their fearsome grandmother, while the work takes place. Big Grandma doesn't even let them read books!

This is a story of how four little girls, both deprived and over-indulged by their slightly eccentric parents, learn to cope when left to their own resources. Along the way, they develop the kind of special relationship the young can have with the old. It's beautifully observed and it's very funny. McKay has a dry and wry sense of humour and isn't afraid to make her punchlines subtle and implied. Subsequent readings will illuminate jokes children didn't notice the first time around. The Conroy sisters remind me greatly of Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpe family - they have a great deal in common but they all have their own separate and distinct foibles. And you can't help laughing at each one. Phoebe's fishing for nothing in a bucket is an image that will stay with me for a long time.

Supporting characters are strong and fleshed out, jokes come apace and underneath it all lies a bedrock of generosity and common sense that will warm the heart of any parent. There are only two male characters - Big Grandma's young friend Graham and his slightly senile, usually drunk, grandfather - and so The Exiles will probably appeal more to girls than boys. But I can't think of a girl aged between eight and eighteen who wouldn't enjoy this little gem of a book.

My thanks to the nice people at Hodder for sending the book.

If they enjoyed The Exiles, they might also like Janni Howker's Badger on the Barge, which also deals with the special relationship between young and old.

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Buy The Exiles by Hilary McKay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Exiles by Hilary McKay at


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