My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s hard to write about family, I think sometimes. It’s a thing that a lot of people do for families, in their odd and pained and viciously real shapes, are part of all our lives and they are something which remain intensely personal. You have secret words, shared histories, internal jokes that nobody, despite however hard they try, may ever fully understand. And you can’t ever understand theirs, even if you understand the full shade of their humour, cut from their life, you may never fully see the shadows in that.
It’s hard to write about family but I think, perhaps, that Hilary McKay is superlative in how she does it. There’s nobody quite like McKay in how she catches that oddly loving and vibrant family dynamic, the way that you love-hate-love your siblings and hate them again, all in the same breath. And there’s nobody quite like McKay who swings you from laughter, through to a rush of love for the entire world, through to catching your breath with tears and wanting everything to just be alright and okay and for them to make their way through this.
McKay is a joy, pure and simple, and in Binny for Short she’s on fine and almost masterful form. The titular Binny (Belinda – Bin, Bel, Binny for short) is a fiery and rather lovely creation. She’s stubborn and grumpy and resolutely of herself. Her childhood is rather idyllic and lovely but following the death of her father, everything changes. Her beloved dog, Max, is given away due to the machinations of Binny’s hated Auntie Violet. Things rise to a head between Binny and Auntie Violet at a funeral, and following a series of unfortunate events (TM Lemony Snicket) Binny is left with Auntie Violet’s home by the sea.
The idea of a home by the sea is something that’s been explored in children’s literature before; the wild and entrancing ‘otherness’ of the seaside will remain eternally glorious but I think here, coupled with Binny’s frenemy Gareth(I loathe that expression but it rather fits her initial encounters with him), her wide-eyed love of the gorgeous Liam and of her love of her new world in general, McKay has created something rather ridiculously lovely.
This book is rich story-telling, ridiculously so, and it is full of life and it is almost a joy to read and I want more, please, for I am greedy for work like this.