Binny for Short

illus. by Micah Player. 291p. S & S/McElderry. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442482753. ebook available. LC 2013000053.
Gr 5–8—After her father's death, 11-year-old Binny and her bereaved family find themselves in the house of a deceased relative in a seaside town. There the child becomes fast enemies with the boy next door, yearns for a long-lost dog, crushes on an older boy, and eventually-through a drawn-out pivotal scene interspersed throughout the primary narrative-comes to accept the grief she's been denying herself. The meaning of friendship and loss underlies what otherwise comes across as a fairly light summer beach novel, peopled with loving and quirky characters who get into similarly sweet and innocent scrapes. Although the complex backstory weighs down the start of the book, McKay keeps the rest from flagging by continuously jumping from one short scene to another, some of which are rip-roaringly funny. Odd and unnecessary childish illustrations of enormous-eyed characters caught in overly emotional states make an awkward juxtaposition with McKay's heartfelt and earnest writing. Binny is wonderfully fun and easy to relate to. Give this one to fans of Jeanne Birdsall's "Penderwicks" (Knopf) and McKay's earlier novels.—Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC
Eleven-year-old Binny, her sister, brother, and mum move into a seaside cottage left to them by (reviled-by-Binny) Aunty Violet. Gareth, the boy next door, becomes Binny's best frenemy, and their final adventure of the summer nearly ends in catastrophe. McKay's masterful control of the mayhem is ingenious. The cartoony art may smooth the way for younger middle-graders challenged by the book's time shifts.
After Dad's death, Binny (short for Belinda) Cornwallis, her sister, her brother, and their mum had no choice but to move to a smaller place. Three years later, eleven-year-old Binny has adjusted seemingly well to the loss of her father, but she's never gotten over the loss of her dog, sent to Granny's when they moved. And she's never forgiven her great-aunt Violet, who took the rambunctious pup from overwhelmed Granny and gave him away. When Aunty Violet dies, the family moves into the seaside cottage she's left them. Gareth, the boy next door, becomes Binny's best frenemy, and the two spend hours together yelling "dare you!"--that is, when he's not busy fighting with his dad and his stepmother-to-be. Binny and Gareth's final adventure of the summer nearly ends in catastrophe, the story of which is meted out in italicized chapters that alternate with the main narrative. The cartoony art, which suits the book's funnier aspects if not the seriousness of the emotion, may smooth the way for younger middle-graders challenged by the book's time shifts. Many of McKay's beloved character-types are here: a child raging at the unfairness of life, another whose eccentricity makes him both maddening and adorable, a kind and incredibly patient older sister. Also here is McKay's self-assured piling-on of disasters, both troubling (three deaths; the loss of a beloved pet; a stolen bike) and comical (Binny's little brother sneaking a chicken into his bedroom; Gareth throwing up on a Brownie troop)--all plunging headlong toward a wondrous, happy ending. McKay's masterful control of the mayhem is ingenious; may the Cornwallis family, like the Conroys and the Cassons before them, have many adventures to come. jennifer m. brabander

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