Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

'Saffy's Angel' by Hilary McKayI absolutely loved this book. I’d order you all to read it, except most of you probably have 1. For those who haven’t, Saffy’s Angel is a clever, funny, touching story about the Casson family. The parental figures are all either vague, absent or dead, but fortunately, the children are resourceful and clever. The eldest, Caddy, is beautiful, kind and not nearly as dim as she first appears. When she’s not looking after the younger children, she’s tending to her guinea pigs (“occasionally they escaped and flocked and multiplied over the lawn like wildebeest on the African plains”) or having driving lessons. She has had ninety-six lessons and still can’t reverse or turn right (coincidentally, she’s in love with her gorgeous driving instructor). Indigo, the only boy, is gentle, sensitive and caring2, and keeps himself busy “curing himself of vertigo for when he becomes a polar explorer”. Rose, the youngest, is artistic, determined and very good at managing (or manipulating) their parents. Then there’s Saffy, who discovers that she’s adopted and refuses to believe the others when they insist she really is a Casson. With the help of her best friend, Wheelchair Girl, Saffy sets out to find the stone angel that her beloved grandfather bequeathed to her and she discovers just how much she means to her family.

I was filled with admiration for how well Hilary McKay told this story. The story’s structure, the pacing, the voice of the narrator – all worked brilliantly, in my opinion. The Cassons were quirky and entertaining, but never irritating or implausible3. Saffy’s search for her lost angel was moving, but never tipped over into soppy sentimentality. And I loved that Wheelchair Girl was neither a victim nor a saint, but a flawed, fiercely independent girl who’d learned to turn everyone else’s pity around to her own (Machiavellian) advantage.

Above all, this book was very, very funny. There was one part where I was laughing so hard that I was crying, and had to keep putting down the book to wipe my eyes so I could see 4. I am very happy that there are five more books about the Cassons, as well as another two series by the author, The Exiles and Porridge Hall.

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  1. as it was published more than a decade ago, and is quite well-known, and also won the 2002 Whitbread Children’s Book Award
  2. I love Indigo. He’s my favourite.
  3. Okay, I got irritated at Bill, the father, quite a lot, but he was meant to be annoying, and he was probably the most realistic character in the book. I know some men who are just like him.
  4. For those who’ve read the book, it’s the bit where Caddy takes them on a long car journey, and Indigo, who has “photographic ears”, is doing impressions of Michael (“Don’t call me darling, I’m a driving instructor”), while Rose holds up helpful signs for the other motorists, warning them about Caddy’s driving skills:
    THERE WAS A FOX
    SQUASHED FLAT
    POOR FOX
    SHE IS CRYING
    SO YOU HAD BETTER NOT
    TRY PASSING US YET
    I WILL TELL YOU WHEN IT IS SAFE
    IT WILL BE ALL RIGHT NOW
    HELLO
    WE ARE GOING TO WALES

2 thoughts on “Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay”

  1. A friend gave me Saffy’s Angel to read just last year and I loved loved loved it. I don’t know where I was or what I was doing to have missed it when it was released. I’ve also just read Hilary McKay’s The Exiles as well. I LOVE HER. The children in her books are gloriously independent and proactive and so flawed. And unique. Just great!

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