Retro Friday: The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I decided to make my review of The Changeover by Margaret Mahy a Retro Friday post because it isn’t that popular. I first found out about this book from the amazing Sarah Rees Brennan, author of The Demon’s Lexicon and The Demon’s Covenant in her post about her favorite couples from books. Click here to check it out. I love the way Sarah does summaries, they are just so hilarious. She mentioned Gen and Irene in that post as well as Sophie and Howl! Well that did it, I had to read The Changeover then.

Too bad the book isn’t available here. I decided to order it from Better World Books and I’m glad they had an affordable ex-library copy. I’m so happy when it arrived! My copy is old but I love it because I feel like it has history. It says in the publication page that it’s a first American publication edition so my copy is even older than I am, it was published in 1984. Isn’t that interesting? The book is in good condition too, it doesn’t look like it’s 26 years old.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When her little brother seems to become possessed by an evil spirit, fourteen-year-old Laura seeks the help of the strangely compelling older boy at school who she is convinced has supernatural powers.

The novel is set in the 80s in Gardendale, New Zealand, where Laura Chant lives with her mother, Kate, and her three-year-old brother, Jacko. The story starts with Laura getting a premonition, a warning of sorts that something terrible will happen. She tells her mother who shrugs it off as irrelevant. Laura is forced to ignore it and she goes to school. At the end of her school day, she picks up Jacko at the babysitter’s and they pass by an antique store on their way home. They go inside and meet Carmody Braque and Laura senses something wrong with this person. Carmody Braque looks particularly happy to see Jacko and proceeds to make his mark on Jacko’s hand by stamping an image of his face on it. Jacko then becomes increasingly ill and only Laura knows that Jacko is being possessed by Carmody Braque. Laura feels that she has no choice but to go to Sorensen “Sorry” Carlisle, the seemingly harmless seventh-form prefect at her school, for help because she knows that he’s really a witch.

I’m so glad I decided to read this even if I had to order the book from abroad because it’s totally worth it. I now have another book to add to my list of favorites. Even though it was written before I was born, I could still relate to this book and to Laura, as she undergoes changes that she’s still coming to understand. It’s not enough that Laura has to worry about adolescence, she also has to deal with the supernatural aspects of her life because of what happened to her brother. I love how Margaret Mahy handles Laura’s coming of age story. The prose in this one is just lovely, I haven’t read anything like it. The descriptions are very real and believable.

The subtitle of this book is A Supernatural Romance so give me a moment to dwell on Sorry and Laura. Sorry is not your typical male protagonist. Yes, he’s self-assured but his confidence really masks his fears. Because of bad experiences in the past, Sorry has chosen to be aloof and to curb his feelings. Laura even tells him that he doesn’t have a heart (Didn’t Sophie tell Howl something similar? I’m not entirely sure). But oh he is such a great character. He reads romance novels and is confused when his dealings with Laura don’t go according to those books. I think Sorry and Laura are good for each other. They both go through changes because of the other person and that says something about their relationship.

If it’s not yet obvious, I highly recommend this to other fantasy fans. It’s an oldie but goodie. Let me close this review with a tweet from Sarah. I tweeted her to let her know that I was reading The Changeover based on her recommendation. This was her tweet after that:

@sarahreesbrenna If I ever write a romance like Gen/Attolia Howl/Sophie & Sorry/Laura I’ll die happy even if my last words=Lots of alligators in this hatbox

I hope you do write something like that, Sarah! I will be delighted to read it.