After reading Mars Evacuees, Frankie asked for ‘another of your awesome books, Granny,’ so I had to oblige with something special after a request like that. And came up with this…
Here is a world where witchcraft is utterly forbidden, yet where magic still seems to break out like measles – all over the place! When a note, written in ordinary blue ballpoint, appears between two of the homework books Mr Crossley is marking, he is very upset.
It says: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH
Anyone could have written it, but the most awful thing is, the note might be true for Larwood House is a school for witch orphans. And the last thing Mr Crossley needs is a visit from the Divisional Inquisitor…
The story is mostly told through the viewpoint of four miserable pupils in Class 2Y – Charles Morgan, Nan Pilgrim, Brian Wentworth and Nirupam Singh. Right from the beginning, there is a strong sense of tension running through the narrative – for witches are strictly forbidden and the fate of anyone using magic is to be interrogated, tortured and then burnt. This being Wynne Jones, we don’t just have a strong sense of fear and tension running throughout the story – there are also moments of farce and laugh-aloud humour.
One of the things I love most about these books is that Wynne Jones doesn’t underestimate how much children understand. There is a whole lot within the story that is implied, rather than spelt out. Mr Wentworth’s fractured relationship with his son, Brian; Charles’ constant black fury and Nan’s desperate yearning to be good at something – even if it is riding around the bathroom on a frisky broomstick tired of being cooped up in the groundsman’s shed.
Although there are shafts of humour, life at Larwood House is no Mallory Towers. The children are divided into cliques, or mercilessly picked upon if they stand out – like Nan and Brian. While the class leaders, Simon and Theresa, spend most of their time mocking their less fortunate peers.
Frankie strongly connected with poor Nan Pilgrim, who takes comfort in being descended from the infamous Dulcinea Wilkes, but to be honest, none of the children are particularly pleasant, apart from Estelle. And this is one of the reasons why Wynne Jones is such a clever writer – their surly/victimised attitudes didn’t stop both of us really caring what happens to them,or poor harrowed Mr Wentworth.
And before the end, Wynne Jones throws in a fair dollop of chaotic chicanery into the mix that had the pair of us spluttering with laughter as I was reading. Another gem of a book that continues to inspire Frankie to go on battling through her severe dyslexia to become an independent reader. Another book that has given us yet another tranche of shared golden memories. If you have a youngster in your life old enough for the earlier Harry Potter tales, but perhaps not quite ready for the bleakness of the later books – track down the Chrestomanci series. They deserve to be far better known…