The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay, 229 pp, RL 4
The Time of Green Magic
by Hilary McKay
Cover art by Fiona Hsieh
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
With The Time of Green Magic, Hilary McKay imbues her novel with a magic that shimmers like a mirage, offering glimpses but never fully revealing itself. Fantasy has long been my favorite genre, but my consumption of it slowed over the last few years, mostly because it is rare that I find something new and different in this realm. McKay, a gifted author of family-centered realistic fiction for young readers, has delivered something new and different. The Time of Green Magic kept me reading, curious, and unable to predict an ending.
Twelve-year-old Abi, missing her paternal grandmother who returned to Jamaica after helping raise her in the ten years since her mother's death, is the first character we meet, page time is shared equally with her new(ish) step-brothers, fourteen-year old Max and six-year old Louis. When their blended family is forced to move houses, Abi's dad Theo, and Max and Louis' mom Polly, agree to work more hours so they can afford to lease a house covered in ivy, with enough rooms for everyone, stained glass windows and a lantern at the front door "straight out of Narnia." Absent parents are the perfect set up for middle grade fantasy, but Theo and Polly, despite work, manage to be present at the right times and, responsibly, arrange a babysitter for after school. Abi, Max and Louis encounter a magic in their new home that is different and disturbing for each of them, yet has the ultimate effect of bringing them together, creating a bond.
Abi, a reader who takes comfort in this solitary pursuit, especially now that there new home has a room for her to be alone in, is the first to encounter the magic when, engrossed in a dusty, hardback copy of The Kon-Tiki Expedition that she found left behind in the room, she stops reading only to realize the book is wet and, when she rubs her eyes and "found them stinging," her finger tastes of salt. Louis, an emerging reader who can only be tricked into practicing by Theo, is visited by a creature he names the Iffen. Cat-like, it emerges from the ivy surrounding his bedroom window to eat and sleep on his bed at night, growing, along with the tension and suspense in the novel, with each visit. It will take readers (and Abi and Max) most of the novel to figure out what book the Iffen was magicked out of and how to get it back in.
Teenaged Max is visited by another kind of magic - his first crush - which happens meets Esmé, the French art school student hired as a babysitter. Max is furious that his mother has foisted a babysitter upon him, something that becomes a deep source of shame for him after his best friend Danny, hurt by an insensitive act on Max's part, airs this publicly in the hallways at school. A war ensues with Max navigating Danny's escalating attacks at school and avoiding Esmé back at home.
The climax of The Time of Green Magic intertwines the plot threads of the main characters, all three of whom are struggling with loss and grief alongside change and growth. The magic, the friendship, the family and the love come together in an ivy covered house that is as much a character in this story as the children. McKay fills this house - and these characters - with traits that are authentic and unforgettable. The real magic of The Time of Green Magic is the way that McKay's writing draws you in and makes you part of the story.
Abi, her father and grandmother are cued as Black while Esmé, Danny, Max, Louis and their mother appear to be white.