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The International Writers Magazine
: Juvenile Fiction Review

Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay
ISBN 0-340-88243-3
Hodder Children’s Books
Katie Baillie review

‘Permanent Rose is the coolest name on the planet!’


Nearly-nine year old Permanent Rose sees her world crashing down as her brother’s best friend Tom moves back to America. Rose has felt close to Tom ever since he said her name was the coolest, and now she feels ‘incomplete’ without him.

But she’s not falling in love, definitely not; ‘Falling is by accident. I didn’t fall in anything!’ After having heard nothing from him for weeks Rose embarks on a quest (inspired by Sir Lancelot in the books her brother Indigo reads to her) to find out what happened to Tom.

Rose enters the narrative awash with colour from her own blue and red biro tattoos, a foreshadowing of her colourful character, that as soon as David (AKA MarcusJoshPatrick) compliments her for, she decides simply must come off. Here begins the tale of a girl driven to painting on walls (as well as herself!) and shoplifting guitar picks in order to quell her ache for Tom to return home.

So welcome to the quirky Casson family where the children are all named after colours of paint; Permanent Rose, Cadmium Gold (Caddy) and Indigo. Their cousin Saffron lives with them and their mother Eve, the artist. Rose has many unusual tribulations to deal with within her family; a mother who sleeps on a pink sofa in the shed, her sister Caddy, a university student engaged to a boyfriend she doesn’t actually like, a cousin called Saffron on a quest to find her real father, her brother, Indigo, who subjects Rose to spending time with his ‘enormous-vegetable-henchman’ friend David, and their father Bill who lives in London and has a new girlfriend. This hotchpotch of dilemmas leaves Rose feeling she must take matters into her own hands in finding out what happened to Tom.

She visits Tom’s Grandma’s house looking for clues to what’s happened. Later she gets on a train with her sister Caddy to visit their father who, to Rose’s delight, is flying to America the next morning. Rose can’t resist the opportunity of going to find Tom standing under a sign saying ‘New York’ and tries her best to convince her dad to take her too.

As well as Rose’s troubles there are several subplots that run along side. For instance Caddy’s engagement with Michael and her losing her engagement ring (that Rose has taken), Saffron’s desire to uncover the truth about her real father, Caddy escaping to London, the barbeque. Surprisingly despite there being so many other little stories going on they never take any focus from the main plot, rather emphasising Rose’s plight.

It is extremely hard not to fall head-over-heals in love with ‘Rosy pose’s’ combination of fiery determination and childhood naivety in her wild notions of tracking down Tom. She even treks all the way across town to Tom’s Grandma’s house where she drops Caddy’s diamond and platinum ring, David rescues it and they become friends. Rose is easy to relate to; she counts the exact amount of time that Tom has been gone while insisting she’s not in love with him, she hates her brother’s friend David, she thinks that if she takes Caddy’s engagement ring Caddy can’t give it back to Michael, all the kind of thoughts a nearly-nine year old has.

It’s heart-warming and light to read; the plot and subplots never get more intense than the moment Rose loses her sister’s engagement ring. The subplots all cleverly mesh together and link back to the main character adding humour to the main plot. Although there are about ten or so principal characters they are not hard to keep track of and each are as loveable as Rose.

Overall the book is fun and not easily forgettable. It is jam packed with different adventures and events that can happen to a nearly-nine year old and it’s easy to connect with the main character. The comical element makes it quite a cheerful read and will inspire young readers to be as brave and adventurous as Rose, while slightly older readers like myself will be left thinking, ‘why wasn’t I that daring at that age?’
© Katie Baillie March 2006
kitkatkb at ntlworld.com
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