The Exiles at Home by Hilary McKay. Library copy.
The Plot: The four Conroy sisters introduced in The Exiles return! This time, it follows a year in the life of Ruth, 13, Naomi, 12, Rachel, 8, and Phoebe, 6. During this time, the girls "illegally" sponsor a boy's education in Africa; illegally, because it's done without the permission of the parents. Each month, they scramble to come up with new ways to earn the monthly stipend they have promised.
The Good: It's Hilary McKay. Have you all not yet been converted to the cult of "anything she does is good"? No?
The Exiles followed the girls during the summer they spent with Big Grandma. Now, we follow them for a year. While I strongly recommend reading The Exiles because it's a great book, you don't have to read it to enjoy The Exiles at Home. McKay quickly sorts out the four girls and introduces you to the way they view the world. That view is best summed up by young Phoebe, that there is "nothing worse than what happens to you by not doing it."
In a way, the girls remind me of Peter Pan. In that, the Conroys are seductive; you love them, laugh with them, turn the page, half in fear of what they think of next. But like Peter Pan, they are still very much children, with their own dedicated world view. It's very matter of fact; honesty and blunt; sometimes callous; always entertaining.
The older girls deliberately teach the next door baby some rather naughty behaviour just so they can keep a baby-sitting job. I laughed so hard I cried; and luckily, the mother was rather understanding of it all. One example is teaching the poor baby the game of Omelette, which consists of crawling around a couch at top speed shouting "omelette" until one loses all sense. Ruth observes, "she was dizzy and the world whirled and the word took possession."
While the "getting the money for the boy in Africa" is the book long plot, the delight is in the every day things the Conroys do. After Christmas break, Ruth is in such a rush that she leaves on her PJ top and doesn't realize it till she gets to school. Ruth, surveying her bedroom, observes that it is "only a mess in patches. Bits of it are still tidy." Phoebe creates a zoo, and as people bother her, she puts them in the zoo.
Rachel, on what people think of her: "Rachel thought that Mrs. Collingwood was the only person who realized how very nice Rachel really was, or could be, if it was convenient for her to be nice all the time, which it wasn't."
Naomi, and her belief in the written word: "Anyone can garden; thousands of books tell you how."
The mother, on trying to understand her daughters' latest scheme: "'Tell me,' said Mrs. Conroy, 'exactly what you are talking about: as if I were a very stupid person.'"
Links: Bookshelves of Doom review.
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