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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

Do you like the characters with mouthy, angry attitudes one minute who then flip from crazy to nice? I call it the Dr Jekyll teenage years. Meet Binny. She's angry, imaginative, vulnerable, sassy, hot-tempered, daring, and funny. Not as funny as her younger brother, James, who likes to charm old ladies, wants to be a farmer, wears a hot pink and green wetsuit around town stripping it off in public when someone questions his gender, and pees on the backyard fence like a flood level marker. Even though he sometimes sounds to old for a six-year-old I guarantee you'll get a laugh from his shenanigans at some point. He's balanced by his sister, Clem, and Mom who are practically perfect.

Gareth, the next door boy is like Binny. He's angry. While Binny is angry over the tragic death of her dad and her aunt who gave away her dog, Gareth is angry over his parents divorce and dad's girlfriend. Binny and Gareth don't pretend to be nice to each other. They are too self-centered and angry to be friends. But then a funny thing happens. They start to do things together and act like they like each other. A friendship blossoms, but don't ask them to confirm it. They'll deny that they are anything but enemies.

I struggled a bit with these eleven-year-old kids. The characters weren't quite right. When Binny is mouthing off in an incredibly rude way to her aunt I could understand because the aunt was rude back. However, when she sasses Gareth's dad and then mocks him it was too extreme for me. Yes, I could see her yelling at a parent, sibling, or relative, but Binny had never met Gareth's dad. I didn't think Binny's character was that out there or rotten. She also experiments with cigarettes, but knows they are bad and tells her mom that she'll never touch them again. You don't usually read about eleven-year-olds smoking.

The plot was straightforward and unpredictable in what the kids were doing. They have some kid-like adventures that are fun and daring. Perhaps that's why I couldn't buy the whole cigarette, anger, and nasty back-talking. It didn't seem to fit them. The author tries to show Binny as a roller coaster drama queen, but it didn't always work for me. The flashbacks were confusing and clunky. At first I thought they were her dreaming or having nightmares. Then I wondered if they were a metaphor or symbol of Binny's journey from anger to acceptance, but that didn't make sense as the story progressed. Once I realized they were flashbacks I was a bit annoyed that I didn't understand that from the get-go. They didn't work in with the storyline smoothly.

The characters are interesting but sometimes they seem too out-of-character. Take Binny's mom. Wouldn't she have said something to her Aunt Violet when she got rid of Max? It is explained at the end that she couldn't deal with it at the time and while I could buy that, I thought it was forcing the plot a bit. Not only did I think her mom would not have let that happen, but Clem, who is responsible and protective of Binny, would not have let it happen either. Of course, it had to happen because the overall point of the novel is Binny is trying to locate what happened to her dog. I just think the story hinges on a weak point.

In the end, I'm not really sure who the audience is for this book. It's entertaining but the characters vacillate from acting or sounding too old to too young. I thought James was older at the start then at the end. It wasn't until he was described as sucking his fingers that I realized I had him way to old. He's also described in his physical appearance way too late in the book. He's a stitch and toward the end reminded me of Batty in the "Penderwicks" who runs around with batwings. James runs around in a wetsuit and garnered the most laughs of all the characters for me. Binny seems young and kind at times and old and snobby at other times. Sometimes she's tough and other times she's vulnerable. It's hard to capture this age and for the most part the author does just that. An entertaining story.

3 Smileys

1 comment:

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