Let’s talk about that much-maligned beast, the supernatural teen romance. No, not sparkly vampires and werewolves and love triangles. I’m talking about romances that pretend to be something else, self-aware and awkward and occasionally grumpy. Love where there’s no romantic comedy Big Understanding, just characters growing together over the course of the book, facing their own hardships and taking it out on each other. Characters who help each other but still work for their own solutions, and who change without changing into a Romantic Entity. My favourite romances occur in the margins of the plot, so it’s no surprise that Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover hits all the right notes for me.
Laura Chant knows the morning the book begins that something’s going to happen — she’s had a Warning, just like the morning before her dad left — but her Warning is brushed aside in the chaos of breakfast and getting her little brother Jacko ready for the day. Laura’s mother Kate needs to leave for work and has no time for feelings of doom, and Laura herself half forgets once out the door. You’ll be shocked to learn that there is an incident with the superbly creepy Carmody Braque later that day, and that Jacko’s health starts deteriorating with supernatural rapidity. Obviously it’s up to Laura to stop Jacko being leeched away, and who else can she turn to but teen witch Sorensen/Sorry Carlisle? Sorry tries hard to be Tall, Dark and Mysterious, but let’s pass over the Twilight comparisons please because in trying he’s funny, which is not an adjective I would ever apply to Edward Cullen.
I’ve described The Changeover as a romance — well, that’s what it says on the cover — and while I do enjoy Laura and Sorry’s confused romantic tension, to leave it at that is to do the book a disservice. Yes, Laura and Sorry’s fledgling friendship makes me laugh, but Laura’s relationship with her mother, Kate, is also warm and real and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny; Laura’s reaction to her mother’s new boyfriend is predictably conflicted; and her feelings for little brother Jacko are key to the whole plot. His sudden magical illness is frightening and inexplicable the way illnesses at that age usually are, and while Laura is determined to fix it, the solution is by no means guaranteed.
Do you, too, like humorous quirky fantasy with awkward romance? Maybe you will be interested in listening to others discuss The Changeover! Join Stuart McKenzie, co-writer and producer of the forthcoming Changeover movie, and young adult writers Elizabeth Knox and Karen Healey, as they discuss with children’s literature specialist Bill Nagelkerke the importance of this great teen novel and its ongoing relevance.
- Continue the discussion at:
The Changeover: 30 years on: Saturday 30 August, 4.00pm
Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture: Sunday 31 August, 10.00am
- Search our catalogue for more books by Margaret Mahy
- Read more WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival posts