I'm afraid that, since I spend so much time talking about what's wrong with This Book or That Book, I'm going to come across as one of those ceaseless critics who never likes anything and thinks no one can live up to her ideals. This is sooo not true. So, to counteract that impression, from time to time, I'll write an entry about a book I love.
For my inaugural entry, I want to talk about one of my most favorite books ever -- The Changeover by Margaret Mahy.
I read this book for the first time when I was a sophomore in high school. It was given to me by my friend Ginger, and I initially thought that she was on crack, because the cover of this book was Super Cheesy. The version that she gave me, which can still be found in used book stores, has a girl on the cover gazing up into the eyes of a guy who is glowing with what I suppose should be an ethereal light, but really just seems sort of faded out. To make things worse, the book is subtitled "A Supernatural Romance." When Ginger, who was a very smart girl, handed it to me and said it was really good, I thought "what the hell is she thinking?" I was really hoping that the main character was not going to fall in love with a ghost or something.
But because Ginger was a friend of mine, I owed it to her to at least give the book a chance, so I did.
And I can't thank her enough, because The Changeover? Is awesome.
The protagonist is Laura Chant, daughter of a recently divorced mom, older sister to a young brother, and basic nonentity at her school. (The book takes place in New Zealand, which means that they have things like prefects and forms, but otherwise is familiar enough to US readers. Teenagers are the same all over. :) ) The one unique thing about her is that she sometimes has these feelings about the future - not actual visions, per se, just feelings about things. She knew her father was going to leave, for example, but the book doesn't bother to explain whether this is an actual "supernatural" ability, or just the fact that Laura, who is an outsider, spends a good deal of time simply observing the people around her.
One of the people she observes is Sorensen Carlyse, a prefect at her school. He's popular and older and hot, but there's something different about him - Sorry Carlyse is a witch. So when Jack, Laura's little brother, gets into trouble with an evil demon, she goes to Sorry, even though she doesn't know him, and asks him for help.
I won't tell you more about the plot, but it's a good one, one that makes sense and gives Laura something at stake, without boiling over into "You Are The One Who Can Save The World" hyperbole. Even better than the tight and focused plot, however, are the characters. Laura is likable and sympathetic, and has a keen eye for details. Sorry is mysterious and reserved at first, but has a truly heartbreaking backstory that explains his odd quirks and reservations. Their interactions are genuine and prickly, but affectionate. The secondary characters of the parents are fully fleshed out, although they don't play a large part in the plot.
And Mahy's writing is effortlessly descriptive without weighing the book down. I've never been to New Zealand, but I know Laura's neighborhood, and Sorry's house, and Laura's mother's bookshop and could shoot film of them if I were making a movie of this book. It's not a complex book, or a groundbreaking book, but I still read it at least once a year, not because I have a book reading schedule, but because I miss its characters, its settings, its turns of phrase. It's a classic, and I owe GInger big.