The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. US ISBN 978-1534462762. UK edition copyright Macmillan, 2019. ISBN 978-1529019230. Read from library copy.
As the book opens, 12-year-old Abi is on a raft in the ocean, with a bright green parrot flying by. Then her little step brother Louis runs by – Abi is pulled out of the book back into their new ivy-covered house in the north of London, but with salt in her eyelashes and Louis asking about the parrot. After this intro, we go back in time to Abi, Louis, his 14-year-old brother Max becoming a family when their parents, Abi’s dad Theo and Max and Louis’s mum Polly, meeting in the emergency department where Theo is a nurse after an epic skateboard accident.
Theo and Polly may be madly in love, but Abi is much less pleased to have her reading time disturbed and most of all, to have her Granny Grace, who’s helped raise her over the past decade, move back to Jamaica. And when the boys are absolutely not able to share a room peacefully, it’s time to move house.
This new house does have magic in it – bits of books brought to life for all three children, including the giant cat shown on the cover for Louis. And when Polly’s work for a charity – started back up to be able to afford the larger house – requires her to work overseas for an extended time – the kids will have to rely on each other more than they ever have before.
As in Hilary McKay’s previous books, her depiction of the messiness of the many individuals that make up a family trying to get along together really shines, from Louis wanting to treat Abi like a close sister from the beginning, disregarding her personal boundaries, but hating reading so much he flushes his books down the toilet, to the pain of Max’s fight with his best friend and his first incandescent crush and Abi’s slow, slow journey to being willing to share even reading letters from Granny Grace with anyone. There are details like an exhausted Theo falling asleep in the middle of telling Louis a bedtime story, mixing three fairy tales into one, and scrambles to order take-out when life has just gotten overwhelming or something needs to be celebrated, and language like, “a recorder club was tormenting a Christmas carol to shrieking ribbons”
Magic slips into the corners, at first hardly real and easily brushed away, then becomes more and more insistent, though more often highlighting the beauty of the normal world than taking over. It’s a lot more relationships and small family moments than overarching plots. And while I found it transcendent, I have found that it takes a particular reader to catch the appeal of McKay’s writing.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.