Review Blog

Jan 07 2010

Wishing for tomorrow: The sequel to A Little Princess by Hilary McKay

cover image

Hodder, 2009.
(Ages 9-90) This will have universal appeal to all who have loved A Little Princess. Who wouldn't want to discover what happened after Sara's dramatic rescue from the horrors of her attic prison. However, in this sequel Sara plays only a minor role. The main protagonists are the host of supporting characters from Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies - the babyish Lottie, the vile Lavinia, the wicked Miss Minchin, her weak willed sister Amelia, Melchisedec the rat and Ermengarde, Sara's hapless young friend.
Whereas first time around they were all foils to Sara, here they have far greater substance. Who would have thought that Lavinia harbours a secret desire to go to university and Lottie, always so babyish is actually spirited and courageous, a kind of female William Brown, with scant regard for rules or decorum. Miss Minchin is a secret alcoholic (McKay's clues are humorous, but so subtle, I'm not convinced young readers will make the connection), while her sister, Amelia harbours well hidden passions for the local vicar.
Ermengarde, bobbing around in a sea of confusion and anxiety, feels completely abandoned by the perfect Sara. This more than anything marks the different eras in which the two stories were written. For Burnett, influenced by Victorian melodrama and the need for little girls to be perfect, everything is black and white. Miss Minchin is evil and Sara has the slightly cloying sweetness of a paragon of virtue. McKay's characters are human and therefore more balanced. We cannot help but sympathise with the dreadful Miss Minchin, we admire Lavinia's single-minded determination and become a little frustrated at the hapless chaos surrounding poor old Ermengarde. Through it all I found myself wondering whether Sara, in apparently adopting the 'I'm alright Jack' approach to life, is really so perfect after all.
This is a thoroughly satisfying read. All the plot strands are drawn together in an exciting and satisfying denouement, and Sara's actions in the final chapters do much to redeem her in the eyes of the reader. We learn too, what ultimately becomes of Sara and her devoted maid, Becky. This is a great read for all ages and perfect to read aloud to the girls in your life.
Claire Larson

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