Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Exiles by Hilary McKay

I first read this book about a decade and a half ago, checked out from the library, and remember being utterly thrilled by it. In fact, I remember cracking myself up repeatedly by saying the line "Must have wurrums!" over and over. And I was in my twenties then, so just imagine how utterly hilarious I would have found it in my teens.

The problem was, I forgot the title of the book (and its two sequels) and I could never find it again--not until I discovered a copy at a recent library sale. I reread it and...well, I guess I'm just an old fogy now.

The four Conroy girls are looking forward to a long summer of reading and doing pretty much nothing else. The two older ones are training the two younger ones to be independent-minded, which to the rest of the world translates to "having no manners." Their parents are definitely not looking forward to the summer, so when Mr. Conroy gets an unexpected five thousand pounds, he and Mrs. Conroy plan a kitchen remodel--and take Mrs. Conroy's mother up on her offer to civilize the girls while they stay with her in the country.

I'd mainly forgotten what little shits the girls are. They really are horrible. I wanted to smack them, even though frequently what they were doing was very funny. I don't recall feeling that way when I read the book before. But their behavior does slowly modulate during their stay, without being saccharine at all. The girls have adventures--like hunting for badgers, exploring a cave, cooking over a beach fire--that sound like they could come right out of Disney but which are given a savage (and hilarious) twist by the author: for instance, the youngest girl, six years old, decides to crawl into the badger hole to see if they're home. None of her sisters stop her.

By the end, I'd remembered why I liked the book so much originally. And the line "Must have wurrums!" really is funny. But I just couldn't warm up to the book as much as I wanted to, which means I probably won't bother to read the sequels again.

B&N link


Kelly Robinson said...

Wow, this looks COMPLETELY unfamiliar, even with all the time I put in on YA.

K.C. Shaw said...

It was her first book and kind of hard to find. She wrote two others, which I have but may or may not reread, can't decide. I haven't read any of her more recent books.