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Laura Chant by cirruscastle on DeviantArt

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Laura Chant has a premonition one morning that something horrible is going to happen to her. She attempts to get her mother to let her skip a day of high school, but no one ever believes her about these premonitions. After school, Laura walks home with her little brother, Jacko and they stumble upon a tiny little shop full of curiosities. There's something very wrong about the proprietor of the store and when he stamps Jacko's hand with a disgusting stamp of his own wrinkled face, Laura knows the premonition has now come true.

She will save her little brother, but she will need help. She decides to visit Sorensen Carlisle, since she knows that he is a witch.

Behind the cut, there will be spoilers

Laura Chant
Laura is a sarcastic, witty, no-nonsense kind of girl. The central theme of the novel is her coming into power. The Carlisle witches work a changeover on her so that she can become a witch. She starts the novel with her premonitions and glimpses of power and undergoes a ritual to unlock the magical side of herself. The dream sequence where she does this is where my drawing above comes in. There's all kinds of juicy symbolism in there.

This is all nicely paralleled with the fact that Laura is an adolescent and she is just growing into being a woman as well. Her romance with Sorenson (also known as Sorry) is one place where she really grows up and changes. Also, her mother, who is divorced, sleeps with a new boyfriend during the crisis of her brother's illness. Laura has to come to terms with this and learn to forgive her mother for having need of adult companionship.

Laura saves her brother and has to come to terms with the rush of her own power. She tries to torture him for a bit, he's not human, but a monster who sucks the life out of innocent victims to prolong his own existence. Sorenson cautions her not to overdo her revenge, as he fears it will hurt her just as much as her victim. Laura decides that he is right and finishes off the evil creature quickly as a result, ending his evil influence in the world.

The magic in the book is very nice. I like this style of magic. It feels very real. It's a magic that requires exchanges of energy. The evil man who stamps Jacko's hand drains energy out of him to sustain his unnatural long life. When Laura finally triumphs over him he melts away and becomes nothing but a handful of decayed autumn leaves. Sorry gets very tired after summoning a kingfisher to his arm, a brief vision from the future. Laura's changeover is full of pleasant and comforting ritual. She has a bath and a glass of wine and breathes in incense to help wash away the cares and worries of the world. It is also full of danger, she looks back on her past (which she was warned not to do) and nearly becomes lost, she cuts through thorny vines that bleed her own blood and cause her pain, when she wakes up, Sorry says he felt her skull shifting as she changed.

When I first read the book, it was all about the romance. Sorenson Carlisle was a little dangerous, but secretly sensitive and nice, as well as having an exotic magic about him. But he's still an interesting character, even if he was built to be attractive to teenaged girls.

He wants to use his magic for nature conservation. He is a bit rebellious with his mother and grandmother, but still respectful. He takes photographs as a hobby and to help him blend in with the other students. He is intelligent and reads romance novels to try to understand girls.

He also has a troubling backstory, involving abuse (his mother originally gives him up for adoption and his adoptive family has money troubles).

He can be pleasantly silly and whimsical, building a little illusionary farm for Laura's brother on the living room carpet. He likes bad puns. He likes to tease. He compares Laura to his favourite pudding, Gooseberry Fool.

It's the best of young adult fiction, in my opinion. There are lots of nice references to fairy tales throughout. It's also set in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, I think it's still out of print. I bought a used copy online a few years ago for cheap. I'm, a little shocked it hasn't been re-printed as I think it holds up extremely well.

April 2017

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