Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

So far I've been looking at wonderful vintage children's books about the seaside and more contemporary titles that look at fast fading childhood memories. So this week I thought I'd share some brilliant contemporary books featuring really bold heroines as they face coming of age – and the more dangerous coming of the tide…

The first of these, Binny for Short takes place in an unspecified seaside town in the west country. Belinda, Bin, Bel or Binny (for short) moves there with her mum, younger brother James and older sister Clem after inheriting a tiny cottage from the brilliantly awful Aunty Violet. Two members of their family are missing though.

Her father, a dreamer and small business man (never a good combination) has died leaving them in dire financial straits. But his passing has been overshadowed in Binny's eyes by the loss of her beloved, uncontrollable puppy Max. After dad's death Max is passed on to Granny. But with her health failing, Aunty Violet makes the decision to have him adopted out, turning her into public enemy number one in Binny's eyes. Max's ongoing, but unknown existence is a nagging link back to life before their father's death. It's a clever and very believable device that allows Hilary Mckay to deal with a major trauma sideways on, giving the book real emotional heft.

It's also rather exciting and very funny. Throughout the main narrative Mckay weaves the climactic event of the story; taking place in fast filling rock pools as Binny and her best enemy Gareth attempt to retrieve a stray fishing net from waters frequented by seals. The impending sense of peril doesn't detract from the unfolding story of Binny's family. In fact it sticks to the relaxed tone of the book – the drama subtly creeping up like the tide.

The main narrative of Binny For Short runs the length of the summer holidays, a six week period that feels like a lifetime to our heroine. The structureless summer months allows for a languid pacing that gives the author the license to fit in huge amounts of interweaving story lines.

It's the comic tangents that I enjoyed the most – many of them featuring Binny's little brother James, whose own summer sees him attempting to set a record for peeing up a fence, wearing a pink wetsuit he found in a bin and in one memorable scene stealing a chicken from the old people's home that his mother works in, finding it a new home in the attic.

The UK edition is available in hardback, with a lovely cover by Karen Radford. The pictures here though come from the US edition – which has some nice stylised interior illustrations by Micah Player. I rather like how the traditional British seaside town is depicted in a hip vintage meets Manga graphic style – it's a disconnect that suits this quirky book rather well.

Hilary McKay is an author who specialises in believable depictions of family life and this book delivers that in spades. The rich cast of rounded characters have earned it a place on the long list for the Carnegie medal (and it really does deserve to reach the shortlist.) Even more exciting is the news that there's a sequel on the way – Binny in Secret, a story that sees our heroine going to school and making a new best enemy. I can't wait to return to this particular seaside town, even if it is out of season.


One thought on “Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

  1. So the US version has interior illustrations, but the UK version does not? I prefer the front cover illustration on the UK version, as well as the interior chapter headings and font. Not sure which to purchase! I might purchase both, just for grins. So I can compare them side by side…


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