The Plot: The most recent book about the Casson siblings is told by each of the four siblings, in connecting stories. While episodic, at it's heart, this is a story about love and relationships: love between siblings, friends, family, and the opposite sex.
The Good: It's Hilary McKay. Of course it's good.
Each sibling voices a section of the book; it begins with Rose, and despite the title, Rose also ends the story. Artistic Rose, with her independence, fierceness, and loyalty, has stolen the show in the last few Casson books and this one is no exception.
Rose is making Valentines; all, of course, are for Tom, but since all cannot be sent to Tom she shares them with others. Indigo assists in the planning of the school Valentine's Day dance, for reasons of his own. Quite accidentally, it's because of him that Saffy starts dating Oscar. Which is why Oscar's older brother, Alex, enters the picture, and meets Caddy. What at first seems episodic, without plot, is actually a complex look at relationships and how we affect each other, whether we mean to or not.
Yes, there is a heartbreaker of a storyline, as Caddy and Alex date. Even if you haven't read the other books, even tho this part is told by Caddy herself, it's obvious that these two do not belong together.
I love the Cassons because they are so fierce about each other, but also so unique and so real and so fun. I love McKay, because hidden under the fun bits are serious issues. Saffy's boyfriend calls and says he'll be over in a few minutes to pick her up, and Saffy looks at her family through another's eyes, seeing the remnants of dinner, the mother in pajamas ("it looks weird"), the mess of the house. Caddy calmly says, "Meet him on the doorstep. That's what I always did."
I remembered then how Caddy used to vanish from the doorstep, one moment there, the next gone, as if snatched by aliens into another world. (She would appear, sometimes what seemed like days later, looking thoughtful.)
It's a bit of a laugh, imagining trying to hide the chaos that is the Cassons, and a look back, a moment when Saffy connects with Caddy as both have passed beyond childhood. But it's more than that: it is also a hint, explored more fully as Caddy dates Alex, that while Caddy loves her family, adores her siblings, being a Casson is not easy. Hence the attraction to Alex, as un-Cassonlike as the Casson father, Bill.
Rose's teacher, Miss Farley, is a great addition to the series; from Rose's description of Miss Farley on the days Miss Farley doesn't take the time to put on make up to the Miss Farley's time-killing game, "Hot Gossip," where all the children share what's going on their lives.
Could this book be read without having read the others? I suppose so; Rose, in her initial section, does introduce her siblings. But the question is, why would you want to? It's a great family to visit with, so why spend less time with them by only reading the most recent book?
A Publisher's Weekly article about this most recent book, The Appeal of McKay's Casson Children.