THE CHANGEOVER by Margaret Mahy
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Again, as in The Haunting (1982), New Zealand writer Mahy proves that all-out supernatural stories can still be written with intelligence, humor, and a fearful intensity that never descends into pretentious murk or lurid sensationalism. Laura, 14, living with divorced Mum (a bookstore manager) and little brother Jacko in a small New Zealand town, is a "sensitive." She gets "warnings" when big disturbances--like her parents' divorce--are imminent. She has the ability to take one look at older schoolmate Sorensen Carlisle and know that he's a witch. And when an old junk-store owner named Carmody Braque playfully stamps Jacko's hand with a smiling replica of Braque's own face, it's Laura who soon realizes that something ghastly has happened: "the stamp was part of him now, more than a tattoo--a sort of parasite picture tunneling its way deeper and deeper, feeding itself as it went." Jacko falls ill, then becomes seriously, mysteriously sick, wasting away, comatose, in a hospital bed. Laura's distraught mother, now growing closer to a librariansuitor, can't even listen to her daughter's ideas about the supernatural causes of Jacko's decline. So Laura desperately turns for help to "Sorry" Carlisle, who lives in a forbidding ancestral manse with his mother and grandmother--good witches who tried (in vain) to give Sorry a normal life away from magic. At first the Carlisles are cautious, distant, slow to admit their witchly powers; Sorry, deeply ambivalent about witch-hood, is sarcastic, sexually teasing. But eventually they agree to guide Laura in her battle for Jacko's life against Carmody Braque, a demon who must feed on human souls and bodies. The first step? Laura must make the "changeover" into witch-hood--something her psychic sensibility makes possible. (The visionary ritual involved is a perfect mix of the chilling and the comic, with Laura taking pot-shots at the poor literary quality of Sorry's chants.) Then, with moral support from Sorry, Laura must have a one-on-one confrontation with demon Braque, hiding her new witch-hood behind dark glasses and stamping his hand with a sign of her power. And finally, after Braque's Oz-style annihilation ("he continued to change back through the centuries of stolen life until his clothes collapsed around what at first appeared to be a rotting, heaving mass"), Laura can celebrate Jacko's recovery--and her own recovery from "a secret illness no one had ever completely recognized or been able to cure": the post-divorce hatred of her father, the jealousy of her mother's new boyfriend. Mahy thus invests the occult evils here with a metaphorical, psychological undertow; at the same time, however, while filling out all the characters (including the witches) with textured charm, she never stints on thoroughgoing creeps and scares. In sum: the best supernatural YA fiction around, with Stephen King power and Mahy's own class and polish.
Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1984
ISBN: 0007155018
Page count: 285pp
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1984


ChildrenBOOM, BABY, BOOM BOOM! by Margaret Mahy
by Margaret Mahy
ChildrenTHE GREEN BATH by Margaret Mahy
by Margaret Mahy
ChildrenMISTER WHISTLER by Margaret Mahy
by Margaret Mahy


ChildrenSPLENDORS AND GLOOMS by Laura Amy Schlitz
by Laura Amy Schlitz