The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted 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 first heard about The Changeover from the always fantastic Sarah Rees Brennan on her post about Transformative Romances (as did my good blogging friend Chachic - but who ended up posting her review much quicker than I could!). I had never heard of this 20+ year old novel, but knew if it came with a stamp of approval from the woman who brought us Mae and Nick and Alan, well then - I would be a fool to pass it by.

Laura Chant is a seemingly normal 14 year-old girl. She goes to school. She babysits her brother Jacko. And sometimes Laura even has what she calls 'premonitions.' Like the time she knew something bad was going to happen the day her father left her mum. Ever since, Laura has been careful to not ignore her strange feelings until one hurried morning when Laura finds herself experiencing that disquieting sensation once again. Forced to ignore her fears in favor of making sure Jacko and her mother are both taken care of, Laura reluctantly chooses to ignore the warning. When the day almost finished, Laura hopes she has somehow escaped this time around when Jacko asks to visit a strange curiosity shop on their way home. Inside Jacko encounters a strange and foul old man who in a moment of triumph places a type of gruesome stamp on Jacko's hand. Unable to remove the horrid stamp, Laura and her mum are forced to watch helplessly while Jacko becomes increasingly more sick and lifeless. Full of fear for her little brother, Laura turns to the one boy who she thinks might be able to help. The strange yet quiet Sorensen Carlisle. Although most people think Sorry is simply a model student with perfect manners, Laura knows he's a different animal entirely. She knows he's a witch.

Mysterious-sounding enough for you yet? Well, it was for me. I ended up reading The Changeover in little more than one sitting because Laura's voice simply grabbed hold of me from the start and refused to let go. Margaret Mahy should be given an award for crafting such beautiful writing and stunning metaphors (would you look at that - she was). Truth be told, I had to keep stopping every few chapters just so I could reread particular passages aloud because they were so poetic. Take this section which occurs on the morning Laura received her 'premonition.' Going aganist all her instincts, she's ignored the warning and is now about to cross paths with the mysterious (to her) Sorry Carlisle at school.
Laura was alone with the day. It panted at her with a stale sweetness on its breath, with a faint, used-peppermint smell that made her want to be sick in the gutter, but she shut her mouth tightly and walked on.

"Hurry up, Chant!" said the prefect at the gate. It was Sorry Carlisle himself, checking that people riding bikes were doing so in a sober fashion, not doing wheelies or riding on the footpath. "First bell's gone!"

He had grey eyes with the curious trick of turning silver if you looked at them from the side. Some people thought they looked dependable, but to Laura there was nothing safe about them. They were tricky, looking-glass eyes with quicksilver surfaces, and tunnels, staircases and mirror mazes hidden behind them, none of them leading anywhere that was recognizable.

Laura and Sorensen looked at each other now, smiling but not in friendship. They smiled out of cunning, and a shared secret flicked from eye to eye. Laura walked past him in at the school gates, bravely turning right into the mouth of the day, right into its open jaws which she must enter despite all warnings. She felt the jaws snap down behind her and knew she had been swallowed up. The day spread its strangeness before her resigned eyes, its horror growing thin and wispy as it sank away. The flow cam back into the world once more, and the warning became a memory, eagerly forgotten because it was useless to remember it. The warning had come. She had ignored it. There was nothing more to be said.
There's nothing I love better than a novel that can capture this type of knowing coupled with foreboding in such detail. Not to mention the ridiculously intriguing relationship Mahy sets up between Sorry and Laura (and between Laura and her mum, and with Sonny's mom and grandmother, etc.). To Laura, Sorry is much less controlled and somewhat less than human in his emotions. They continually experience this wonderful give-and-take; where both are expecting something from the other, but usually the timing is way off and so they continue to circle each other until another attempt to close the distance between them is made.

The Changeover was such a wonderful, unexpected find. I can only imagine how popular it could become (again) with a shiny cover makeover and some focused marketing (publishers, are you listening?). Laura's compelling and dark coming of age story was a unique discovery, full of wit and charm, and one I'll be passing along with pleasure.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Book A Week review
Bookshelves of Doom review
Chachic's Book Nook review
Justine Larbalestier's review
Things Mean A Lot review

book source: my local library


Nomes said...

this book looks completely awesome (well, maybe not the cover, but the premise) and I'm guessing my library has it... hopefully :)

Angiegirl said...

I love that this one's been featured on more than one RF post! I read it awhile back and enjoyed it. Sarah's posts on it are, of course, hilarious. It's great people are picking it up again on her mentions. And it could seriously do with a cover makeover!

xtina@moydrookreads said...

congrats! you are a winner in my 1st ever book giveaway...kelley armstrong's THE SUMMONING will be coming your way shortly. email me at to give me your mailing address. full contest results here:

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Chachic said...

Yay Michelle, so glad you decided to write a Retro Friday post for this one! I'm with Angie, I think it's awesome that this book was featured in more that one Retro Friday post :P

I agree that this book needs a cover makeover! The covers don't do the story justice. I have a feeling more readers would be into it especially with the boom of paranormal books. It's such a lovely book! I think the ending is just perfect. I was actually quite worried because Laura IS young at fourteen but I should've known Margaret Mahy would be able to pull it off somehow.

Liviania said...

Go for THE TRICKSTERS or MEMORY next. I think they're my other two favorite Mahy novels. She's a total treasure.

Michelle said...

inkcrush - I would heartily recommend you ask at your library. It is simply awesome.

Angie - Always happy to participate in RF! Especially one prompted by a SRB recommendation.

Jane - Woot! Thanks so much ;)

Chachic - Yes! It really would get so much more love with a better cover. Personally, I never felt like the novel was 'dated.' I think a lot of fantasy/Paranormal readers would connect with Laura's story. And I too was wondering about the age thing, but like you said, very well done. I just wish there was something else to read about those two later down the road. I'd buy that ;)

Liviania - Thanks for the recommendation. I think I'm going to have to track down some of her other books.

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