Review Blog

Jan 12 2010

What to do About Holly by Joan Lingard

cover image

Catnip Books, 2009.
(Ages 9+) Recommended. I have always been a huge fan of Joan Lingard's understated novels. She has a habit of creating characters that inveigle their way into your heart and linger in the memory long after you have finished reading. Twenty five years on I still treasure well thumbed copies of the Kevin and Sadie novels and I was delighted to find that Lingard's recent writing still packs a punch.
Mum is going on holiday with her boyfriend, so Holly is going to stay with her Dad. Holly's Mum puts her on the train at Glasgow in the care of 'a nice lady', who luckily happens to be the writer that visited Holly's school that very day. Unfortunately Dad isn't awaiting Holly at Edinburgh station and, finding it impossible to contact either him or her mother, the author Nina Nightingale has to take Holly home with her.
Circumstances dictate that for a whole fortnight Holly must stay with Nina, her husband and their recalcitrant son Johnny. Holly feels like a fish out of water, angry with her Mum for leaving her and scared that her Dad might not get away from the oil rigs to rescue her. Her sense of powerlessness, discomfort and anguish are skilfully portrayed as is Nina's attempts to help Holly acclimatise to life in an affluent middle class family. Johnny's sulky jealousy is the main stumbling block and when Johnny, in a fit of pique disappears on his bike and doesn't come back, Holly feels responsible for the life threatening consequences.
This is a gentle story that offers much to think about, examining as it does the human frailties and insecurities that set off a chain of events which Holly is powerless to control. Her only solace is her imaginary friend Sylvie and the gradual blossoming of her friendship with Nina Nightingale. Definitely worth directing towards girls who enjoy a contemplative, intelligent read.
Claire Larson

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