Series Stars: The Exiles by Hilary McKay

exilesCindy: I think of this series of delightful books every August as my summer vacation winds to an end. In The Exiles (Margaret K. McElderry, 1991), the four Conroy sisters, Ruth, Naomi, Rachel, and Phoebe are excited when their parents come into an inheritance and they gleefully begin plotting how to spend their share. Their hopes and dreams are dashed when their parents foolishly decide to waste the money on a remodel and exile all four girls to Big Grandma’s house for the summer. Big Grandma, who will only allow two books per girl FOR THE WHOLE SUMMER because she wants them outside getting fresh air and having adventures instead of reading! The girls agonize over their packing choices as much as Lynn and I do when we are packing our book reading choices for vacation. The fact that we pack more books than shoes says a lot if you know how much we both love shoes. And who can’t sympathize with poor Ruth, banned from the school library due to her overdue library fines:

“But I’m one of your best customers,” Ruth had raged.

“Worst customers,” corrected the librarian.

The antics of the four girls throughout the summer are priceless and the character of Big Grandma is up to the challenges the girls provide. This was McKay’s first novel and she has become one of my favorite authors. I keep hoping for more Exile stories. In the meantime, if you like this one, there are two more, The Exiles at Home and The Exiles in Love. My only complaint? The uninspiring cover art. And the reason I always think of this book in August? It has one of my favorite end of the summer quotes:

“The last days of the holiday, like fairy gold counted in the sunlight, disappeared as fast as they were numbered. The shining wealth of summer that had been theirs to squander dwindled to a few dull-gleaming days. Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe began to spend them with the distraught recklessness of those who see the end of the world.”

25686885Lynn: It is very hard to choose among these witty stories but the third book, The Exiles in Love, has to be my favorite. As always it is packed with McKay’s trademark humor and observations so wonderful that as I read I am laughing out loud and searching frantically for someone to read them to. In this book, the Conroy sisters ALL succumb to the “family failing.” As Big Grandma tells it, the family failing isn’t just to fall in love. It is to fall in love “Impractically. Desperately. Unsuitably. And usually quite hopelessly.” With all four girls moping around, Big Grandma whisks them away to France. Struggles with village shopping, a haunted orchard, a rescued lobster and past-tense French ensue. For the people of Brittany, surviving the Nazi invasion was a cake-walk compared to the arrival of the Conroy sisters! There is a lovely peek into the girls’ future at the end of this book too.

img103181While we’re on the subject of delightful series by Hilary McKay, make sure you don’t miss her more recent series about the eccentric and appealing Casson family that begins with Saffy’s Angel (S&S, 2002). The new cover art is from the paperback edition.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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