From the BLURB:
When she was eight, Binny’s life was perfect: She had her father’s wonderful stories and Max, the best dog ever. But after her father’s sudden death, money is tight, and Aunty Violet decides to give Max away—he is just too big for their cramped new life. Binny knows she can’t get her dad back, but she never stops missing Max, or trying to find him. Then, when she’s eleven, everything changes again.
Aunty Violet has died, and left Binny and her family an old house in a seaside town. Binny is faced with a new crush, a new frenemy, and…a ghost? It seems Aunty Violet may not have completely departed. It’s odd being haunted by her aunt, but there is also the warmth of a busy and loving mother, a musical older sister, and a hilarious little brother, who is busy with his experiments. And his wetsuit. And his chickens.
It’s all about before and after for Belinda (Binny);
Before Max, and after Max.
Before Dad Died and After Dad Died.
Before Aunty Violet Died and After Aunty Violet Died.
Because there are lots of Befores and Afters in Binny’s life . . .
Before Dad Died, he gifted Binny the perfect puppy, Max, just like a dog she saw in a book once. She loved Max terribly, and he was the best dog. But then dad died, and the family had to move; Binny, her mum, older sister Clemency ‘Clem’ and little brother, James. They moved two times after dad died, and Max didn’t fit into any of their new places – so he went to live with Granny. But then Aunty Violet gave him away, said he was too much trouble for Granny and Binny hated Violet ever since.
But it was After Aunty Violet Died that they inherited her house by the seaside and finally started a proper new life since dad died.
At first, Binny was reluctant to settle into this old house where Aunty Violet’s ghost still lived. But Clem and James settled in right away – Clem when she found her friend Kate, who works at a local cafe, and James when he pulls an old pink wetsuit out of the bin and discovers his love for chickens.
But Binny doesn’t really start settling in until Gareth arrives. He lives in a holiday house next door, and from the first time their eyes lock it’s war for Binny and Gareth.
Binny swiftly abandoned all her earlier peaceful plans.Battle, then. They would be enemies. They were enemies. No use to consider anything else. She had no problem with that. After all, she had not had a good, tough enemy for months. Not since the last one died.
‘Binny for Short’ is the middle grade book by Hilary McKay. I read the UK version (unillustrated, though the US edition includes drawings by Micah Player).
I absolutely, thoroughly and unabashedly adored this book, and was absolutely delighted to learn that this is just the first book McKay intends for young Binny.
We first meet Binny at age 8, when she is gifted Max the puppy and her father dies. This marks the beginning of the first big shift in Binny’s life, and while she has fond memories of her father and imagines she was very sad after he died (though she can’t remember being as sombre as Clem or throwing tantrums like James did) she more sharply remembers how sad and angry she was when Max was taken away from her. Because even after dad died, Binny had Max and he was the best dog. But then they had to move to a small house Max couldn’t fit in, so they gave him to gran to look after. But then Binny learns that her Aunt Violet decided gran couldn’t look after Max, so she took it upon herself to rehome him with a new family.
When Binny learns to this she is distraught, and so begins many years of missing and trying to look for Max, and her hatred of Aunt Violet (which she lets her know about!).
Then Aunty Violet dies and leaves her old Cornwall house for Binny (specifically) and her family to move into. Binny wants to refuse any ‘gifts’ from Aunt Violet (especially one she imagines to be haunted by Violet’s vengeful ghost) but the rest of her family look forward to a bit of stability since dad died, and happily move into the house.
And it’s here, when Binny is eleven-years-old, that the story really kicks off. She develops her first crush on a local boat-owner who takes tourists out to view the seals. She finds a new enemy in next-door neighbour boy, Gareth. Clemency settles back into her music, and mum gets a job at the local old people’s home, and she brings James along to charm the little old ladies and admire their chickens.
Interspersed with Binny and her family’s settling into Cornwall are scenes of Binny and Gareth, somewhere in the very near future, stuck out in high-tide in the middle of a Cornwall beach. A moment that may move them from enemies to proper friends, if they survive . . .
The book is really a beautifully, third-person rambling narrative about one family’s up’s and down’s in the year their lives start to settle but grief and change occasionally creep in to unsettle things. And for Binny, the constant memories of Max are her trigger to larger sadness.
There’s a lot of beauty and laughter in this novel too, like little brother James who tries to break his high-peeing record on the back fence and requires a behavioural list to abide by;
They had to keep making new rules for James.
No taking money from the old ladies.
No hunting in bins.
No taking off that wetsuit in shops to show people you are a boy.
No more stealing seeds from the supermarket.
In fact no more stealing anything from the supermarket.
No crabs in your bedroom. Or Binny’s bedroom.
No tormenting the neighbours.
No unsupervised hotness of any kind.
I absolutely loved this family and Binny – she’s a charming character trying to fit into her own skin. She’s attempting to come to grips with a loss that feels like it could be rectified, her burgeoning love for an unkind teenage boy and this fiery need she has to antagonise her next-door-neighbour. She’s quite a character, and I can’t wait to read more of her adventures. ‘Binny for Short’ is actually one of my favourite novels to come out of 2013.