Thursday, November 04, 2004

Margaret Mahy--New Zealand Writer

Margaret Mahy-- New Zealand Writer

Born: Whakatane, New Zealand, March 21, 1936
Lives: Governor’s Bay, New Zealand with husband, Robinson
Children: two daughters
Pets: Three cats, Orsino, Socks and Sabbath; and standard poodle named Baxter
Hobbies: Reading, swimming, taking walks, “fussing” with her pets
First book published: A Lion in the Meadow, 1969
Occupation: Retired from Canterbury Public Library, left to write full-time

Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Book: The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban, The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Food: Salad Sandwiches
Writer: Diana Wynne Jones, one of them; Always looks forward to reading books by New Zealand authors


The Maragret Mahy Pages
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K6 Biographies—Maragaret Mahy
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Margaret Mahy (from New Zealand Books,Ltd.)
Available at:

Mahy, Margaret
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Books For Young Adults:

Underrunners— A, E (I included this book because it has won two awards in its home country of New Zealand.)
Mahy, Margaret. 1993. Underruners. New York: Chivers. ISBN: 074511671X.

The Door in the Air— (I included this book because it is an anthology of short stories.)
Mahy, Margaret. 1991. The Door in the Air. New York: Dell Publishing Company, Incorporated. ISBN: 0385302525.

Alchemy— N (I chose to include this book because it is her newest book and has already won an award in New Zealand.)
Mahy, Margaret. 2004. Alchemy. New York: Simon & Schuster’s Children’s. ISBN: 0689850549.

The Catalogue of the Universe.— (Though this book has not won any awards, I chose to include it. I did so because Mahy says that, of all her characters, she thinks she identifies most strongly with Tycho.)
Mahy, Margaret. 2002. The Catalogue of the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s. ISBN: 068985353X.

The Haunting— C, E (This book has won an award in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom.)
Mahy, Margaret. 1991. The Haunting. New York: Random House Children’s Books. ISBN: 0440404088.

The Tricksters— (This book was chosen because the premise intrigued me: three brothers(the Tricksters of the title) “invade” lives of the vacationers of Carnival’s Hide.)
Mahy, Maragaret. 1999. The Tricksters. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s. ISBN: 0689829108.

Memory— (This book was chosen for inclusion because it deals with personal responsibilities, cultural and ethnic roles.)
Mahy, Margaret. 1989. Memory. New York: Sagebrush Education Resources. Original edition, New York: Penguin, 1989. ISBN: 0613228936.

24 Hours— E, N (This book was included because it won two New Zealand awards.)
Mahy, Margaret. 2000. 24 Hours. New York: McElderberry, Margaret K. Books. ISBN: 0689838840.

The Changeover— C, E ( I chose this book not only because it has won two awards, one in the United Kingdom, and the other in New Zealand, but because it was the first book by this author that I ever read and I never forgot it.)
Mahy, Margaret. 1984. The Changover: A Supernatural Romance. 1st Am. ed. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's. ISBN: 068503032.

A= AIM Children's Book Awards- Established 1990. Awards are presented to New Zealand books in five categories, plus a "Book of the Year". Sponsored by AIM Toothpaste.)
C= Carnegie Medal- Presented annually to an outstanding book published in the United Kingdom.
E= Esther Glen Award- Given for the most distinguished contribution to New Zealand literature for children and young adults.
N= New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2003- Prior to 1997 the awards were known as the AIM Children's Book Awards.

Book Analyses:

Memory and The Other Side of Silence

In Margaret Mahy’s novel, Memory, a young man struggles with his memory of his sister’s death even as an elderly woman battles with Alzheimer’s disease’s effect on her own memory. Johnny Dart is the young man who decides to straighten out his memory by contacting the only other witness, Bonnie. Bonnie was his sister’s friend and the last time he saw her was at the funeral. After a drunken brawl that lands him in court and a fight with his father, Johnny manages, in his still drunken state, to find the home of Bonnie’s parents. They tell him to come back when he is sober and get a friend to take him to catch a cab. He does not catch the cab, but instead passes out in the cab stand. When he comes to he notices a woman, who is terribly confused and who mistakes him for someone she knows. Johnny follows her home with the idea that he is going to make sure that she is in safely for the night, but when he does follow her in, he finds it extremely hard to tear himself away from the woman. As Johnny discovers little slips of paper around her house, he realizes that Sophie has been paying “rent” to someone named Spike everyday, sometimes more than once a day, but made sure she “got a receipt.” Her memory essentially useless, Sophie has become a hazard to herself. In one filthy room, Johnny finds an iron that had burned through what ever she had been ironing, thankfully not igniting a fire that could have killed her.
Sophie’s acceptance of Johnny seems a little too easy and a tad quirky until Johnny realizes that he, for some reason reminds her of a cousin that she once loved. This memory gives Sophie a measure of safety when it comes to letting Johnny help her. The episodes that Mahy uses to demonstrate Sophie’s decline into Alzheimer’s are both funny and incredibly sad at the same time. For example, Sophie lets Johnny spend the night at her house, but she tells him that she is going to lock her door. It is also through these episodes that Mahy ties Johnny’s memories to his present. From meeting and eventually conquering the bully who tormented him as a child, to the surreptitious appearance of Bonnie, the person he has been looking to find, right next door to Sophie, Johnny’s memories are “reoriented” as one critic put it. It was the memory of the past that drove Johnny to this point. He is afraid that he pushed his sister off the cliff. He can almost remember doing just that, but he is not sure if that vague memory is something his mind has come up with to explain why he went along with Bonnie when she lied about where he was when Janine fell. Mahy uses snippets of “memories” to tie her character to his past and demonstrate how memories can both offer comfort and torment.
In helping Sophie, Johnny finds that she is helping him, by giving him a purpose which he has been lacking. He also learns a little more about the sister he lost and about himself. Dancing was always part of him, his feet even tapping a rhythm as he walked.
Mahy explores several issues including the Anglo/Maori culture clash, Alzheimer’s Disease and the poor treatment of the elderly. The images in Mahy’s stories are magnificent, and the memories of Bonnie that Johnny has kept in his mind are vivid and colorful. “Both are trapped to some extent by their memories; both are outcasts living within a kaleidoscopic vision of both past and present.”(Hutcheson, 214.) Past and present mix and intertwine. Bonnie’s own sister has chosen to embrace her Maori heritage despite her upbringing in an Anglo home.
As young adult novel, the 19-year-old Johnny finds himself in a situation where he decides to take responsibility and action without the aid of a competent adult. That is to say, that he chooses to take care of this woman who obviously is too ill to take care of herself. Adults in the book are secondary characters who sometimes offer advice but who are generally unable to assist him. Sophie seems to float between a teenaged version of herself and the part of her that remembers being married to Errol, a plumber and a gentleman of nature. The characterization of the people in this story is marvelous. “Even the minor characters echo the hold of memory, and the setting is dominated by a giant fake faucet that hangs on a sign overlooking the old lady’s house.”(Hutcheson, 214.)
The Other Side of Silence is a novel that explores the fine lines of identity, reality and fiction. At the onset of the book, the twelve-year-old heroine makes a distinction between “Real Life (what everyone agrees about) and True Life (what you know inside yourself).”(Decker, 37.) Hero, the main character of the book, is a girl living in a house full of geniuses gifted verbally. Ironically, Hero, always the shy, quiet child of the family, has chosen to remain silent for almost seven years. Her boisterous family includes her mother and father, an older brother and younger sister. Hero also has another older sister, who has left New Zealand to make her way in Australia. When Hero’s sister returns to the family, she has a secret and an abandoned boy named Sammy in tow. Hero loves to climb in the trees that border the old Credence place. “The day she falls from a tree and lands at the woman's feet begins a perilous journey for the young protagonist.” (Vasilakis, 210.) Miss Credence, the last of her family, a strange woman who weaves tales around Hero that mixes reality and folk tales hires the young girl to clean first the garden and then house. When Hero begins to clean the house, she discovers a secret that Miss Credence has kept for years. In the tower, where the windows have been painted white, Miss Credence has chained her daughter, Jorinda, who has been neglected and has developmental challenges.
Mahy is a storyteller who works to make her stories more “heard” than “seen” and as with Memory, the characters in this novel are drawn loosely with the idea that their voices and traits make them more complete. The reader, along with Hero, learns how Miss Credence’s life was affected by her strained relationship with her father and how she came to lock her daughter in the tower of the mansion and hide her existence from others and from herself. Mahy sought to show how the mind can blur the lines between reality and fantasy and can twist a person’s mind. Mahy uses Hero’s silence to heighten the tension, when Hero is imprisoned in the tower room with Jorinda. Hero also considers throughout how and why she chose to be silent.
This novel is a story that belongs in young adult fiction, because it involves a young girl who has to solve her problem with limited help from the adults in her life. Although her parents come to ask Miss Credence about Hero’s disappearance, it falls to Sammy, the boy Hero’s sister brought home with her, to rescue Hero. The novel addresses issues about identity that young adults face every day. Mahy’s ending is optimistic, but not totally unrealistic. Though Jorinda is freed from the tower, she is not “miraculously cured” but still faces problems that stem from the neglect she suffered there. Hero writes her tale on paper, but, never intending for anyone to read it, she burns the pages after her family reads it.
Memory and The Other Side of Silence both deal with how teenagers see themselves and how the mind plays an important part of determining who they become. Mahy’s straightforward language, with a minimum of figurative expressions, writes a story that engages the reader and still manages to make a point without becoming preachy or overbearing. Mahy believes that young adults in New Zealand should be able to read books that deal with issues that face them. So, it is not surprising that in these two books threads of intolerance and prejudice are woven into the book. The result of this are books that encourage the readers to think about complex and difficult issues, such as treatment of the elderly, mentally ill, disabled, as well as, cultural stands.

Reference List:

Hutcheson, Barbara. 1988. Review of Memory by Margaret Mahy. School Library Journal. (Jan/Feb.).
Vasilakis, Nancy. 1996. “Booklist for Older Readers.” (Review of The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy.) Horn Book Magazine. Vol. 72 Issue 2. (Mar/Apr).
Decker, Charlotte. 1996. Reviews:Fiction (Review of The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy.) Book Report. Vol. 14, Issue 5. (Mar/Apr).