BACK HOME by Michelle Magorian


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Like Good Night, Mr. Tom, Magorian's second novel is set against the background of the WW II evacuation of British children--but otherwise we're deep in problem-drama-land. It's 1945 and Rusty, now twelve, returns to a Britain after five golden years in America--five years with a big, bohemian family, in the land of plenty and individual initiative, that have turned her into a confident, outgoing, thoroughly American preteen (advanced, in some respects, even for the 1945 US) and as much a stranger to her mother, who insists on calling her Virginia, as her mother, now a uniformed Women's Voluntary Service driver-and-mechanic, is to her. The situation is psychologically fraught--Rusty also has a four-year-old brother, Charlie, who's jealous, hostile--and it allows for lots of cross-cultural contrasts and misunderstandings. But it's also loaded--with the parallel between Rusty's newfound independence and her mother's, which both have difficulty accepting (a stock '80s theme, projected back)--and the circumstances, unexplained to start with, are increasingly implausible. I.e., why Rusty was evacuated (not from London, or another danger-zone), how she wound up with earthy, artistic Aunt Hannah and Uncle Bruno (so alien to her own stuffy family). Rusty and her mother apart, moreover, the characters are one-dimensional. There's ""ruddy, white-haired"" Beatie, in whose ""dilapidated and rambling"" house her mother is billeted, who gives Rusty the understanding and reassurance she doesn't get from her mother--who'll ultimately, predictably, die and leave the house to Rusty's mother. There's Beatie's antithesis, Rusty's paternal grandmother, the model of a malicious British snob. And worst of all is her officer-father, who proves on his return to be a mama's boy and cruel martinet. At a ghastly boarding school, Rusty is shunned for her Americanisms, even officially penalized; she suffers, loses weight and her health. But under Grandmother's harsh thumb, she and Charlie and her mother do draw closer. And, after a covert friendship with a boy-evacuee blows up (which also has a mother-parallel), Beatie's legacy brings blessed release. Rusty's misery-and-fortitude, along with the Anglo-American tensions, move the story through the 385 pages--but the most exceptional thing about the book is indeed its length.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row