fiction favorites…Wishing for Tomorrow

Wishing for Tomorrow, by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Nick Maland
(The Sequel to A Little Princess)

It has been a very nasty Saturday.
Lottie was sent up to bed early because of the milk in her shoes but she did not go quickly to sleep.  We could hear her playing Zoo Animals all by herself, so loudly that Lavinia said she was going up to stop her.  Gertrude went too.  Lottie let Lavinia into the room, but she would not have Gertrude.  She stepped out into the corridor and held the door tight shut with both hands.  Gertrude tried to prise her fingers away, bending them back one at a time to make her let go.
Lottie did not let go.  She bit.  The tooth marks made a little circle of blue bars on Gertrude’s arm.  Then Lottie ran away and hid and Gertrude went shrieking for Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia…
The hunt for Lottie went on until quite late and I was beginning to think she had slipped out of the house and been kidnapped or something awful like that.  But then Alice heard snoring from behind a curtain on the landing and there she was fast asleep on that window seat where you and I used to sit sometimes.  She had her thumb in her mouth and her curls were everywhere and Alice said, “Poor little mite.  I’m glad my little sister’s not dumped in such a place as this.”
(Alice is not a bit respectful about Miss Minchin’s, Sara, and she is not very impressed with London either.  She says she only came to London to see the sights, and she says she has certainly seen some since she got here.)

Wishing for Tomorrow is a sequel to A Little Princess, published just last year.  Normally I am Highly Suspicious of sequels.  Often they are unfortunate and pale, even when written by the  original author.  Taking a 100-year-old  children’s classic and writing a sequel to it definitely qualifies as treading on hallowed ground, skating on thin ice, playing with fire, or what-have-you.  However, when I saw that Hilary McKay was the one attempting this, I grew hopeful enough to pre-order a copy, and I am happy to say that I enjoyed it very much.

A couple of McKay’s decisions in approaching this sequel surely helped her avoid some landmines.  First, she does not attempt to mimic Frances Hodgson Burnett’s voice but uses her own, winsome style, sparing us from painful comparisons.  Second, rather than following the story of Sara Crewe, she turns her attention to the other lesser characters in the original book and writes their story, leaving her free to explore far beyond the scope of one, iconic figure’s life.

Wishing for Tomorrow tells the story of all the girls who aren’t Sara — plain Ermengarde, snooty Lavinia, feisty Lottie — the girls who are left at Miss Minchin’s in the wake of the extraordinary reversal of Sara’s fortunes.  We learn their back-stories, and much more of their unique talents, as well as the stories of Miss Minchin and her sister Amelia.  We see what happens next at the Select Seminary when the dust settles after Sara’s departure with the Indian gentleman.  Several new characters are introduced including a spunky new maid named Alice, and a red-haired boy who generates lively discussion in the house.  Switching briskly back and forth between and omniscient narrator’s voice and fascinating letters written by Ermengarde, McKay spins out numerous clever plotlines, then deftly weaves them together for a fitting, satisfying conclusion.

If you have read any Hilary McKay, you know she is a master at sparkling humor, lively characters, tight, bantering dialogue, and pacing which never bogs down.  This story is full of subtleties which adult readers will enjoy, strong female characters, lovely colorful peeks at Victorian life, and a famous play premiering in London in this era.  It is decidedly British as well, with puddings and shillings, students busy “swotting” for exams, and Ermengarde’s confused attempts at sorting out British history.  If you are well-versed in things British, this will only add to the charm.

If you want to know whatever happened to Ermengarde…and Becky…and even Melchisedec the rat…this book awaits you — a fresh, robuts, delightful story for girls ages 9 and up.

You can order Wishing for Tomorrow from Amazon by clicking on this link: Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess