by Diana Wynne Jones
I found this book at a super-sized, big-city bookstore several years ago...and didnt buy it. I dont know why I didnt, but Ive been kicking myself about it ever since. When I decided that I wanted to read Aunt Maria
, I couldnt find it anywhere. None of the bookstores I went to carried it. I ordered it repeatedly online, but the orders kept being cancelled because the supplier couldnt find any copies of it. Even when I managed to lay hands on a used copy at an outlet bookstore, I was disappointed; 50 of the first 100 pages were missing.
I finally got a break or maybe I finally made a break when I ordered Aunt Maria through an online used-book broker. My copy arrived, fully intact, quite clean, and not even smelling of stale cigarette smoke. I was tickled. And my joy continued all the way through reading the book. While I wouldnt quite say Diana Wynne Jones can do no wrong, she did right by this book.
Mig and her brother Chris have a terrible Aunt Maria. She is actually their fathers aunt by marriage, and now their father has gone and driven off a cliff so she really has no fair claim to them, but when Aunt Maria insists that they come to stay with her over the Easter holidays, Mig and Chris and their mother give in.
Aunt Maria is good at using guilt and shame to make people do things for her. Soon she has Migs mother serving her hand and foot, and with the aid of a bossy neighbor lady and a whole brood of Mrs. Urs (so many you cant keep their names straight), she begins to sink her claws into Mig and Chris as well. They fight it, though, at first in small ways, and more and more as they begin to notice strange things going on in Aunt Marias town of Cranbury-on-Sea. Things like the orphanage full of clone-like children, and commuter train full of zombie-like husbands, and the car that looks just like the one Dad supposedly drove off a cliff.
The little signs and little rebellions escalate apace. Mig adopts a cat that looks eerily like the woman who used to wait on Aunt Maria, and befriends the ostracized, crippled old lady across the street. Chris communicates with a ghost that appears every night in his bedroom, and accepts a secret mission from the crippled old ladys eccentric brother. They fight back against Aunt Marias increasing efforts to cast a magical net around them, until Chris gets himself turned into a wolf. With her mother completely under Aunt Marias spell, Mig finds herself alone, small, and vulnerable. Yet it is she who must put a stop to Aunt Marias wickedness.
Here is another of D.W.J.s fine fantasy tales, full of wit and originality and a slightly off-color family many of us can identify with. It is one of those stories about how you can go to a place expecting a restful holiday and end up having the fight of a lifetime against a serious and powerful evil - without ever becoming quite as dark and hopeless as some of those stories. It is a story in which the unlikely monster is a helpless, teddy-bearlike old lady. It is a story youll want to stay up way past your bedtime to read, but it wont leave you afraid to turn the light off when youre done.
Recommended Age: 14+
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