Elizabeth's Reviews > Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess

Wishing for Tomorrow by Hilary McKay
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's review
Mar 09, 2012

Read from January 01, 2009 to March 01, 2012

** spoiler alert **
Hilary McKay is my favorite contemporary children's author and A Little Princess is my all-time favorite children's book, so why did it take THREE YEARS for me to read 'The Sequel to A Little Princess'? Three years and THREE ATTEMPTS? The answer is, I don't know. I read it halfway through the first time and then just stopped reading and forgot about it. I picked it up a year later, got two-thirds of the way through, and then the same thing happened. This year I was determined to finish it, but it has still taken me months.

I really don't know why. I enjoyed it; I find no fault with the narrative voice, which is a little less formal than Burnett's but still pays homage to the original; I find no fault with the historical accuracy; the characters all ring true, despite every single one of them being given typical McKay quirks and redemptions (everybody gets redeemed, everybody gets happy endings, even Miss Minchin, which is really very McKay if you ask me. But it works.) The story is told from the point of view of Ermengarde and describes events at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies immediately following the end of A Little Princess. The books climaxes in a GLORIOUS inferno as the entire seminary collapses into a pile of cinders and flame, with everyone, even Melchisedec, escaping over the roof - it's epic, it pays tribute to the climax of A Little Princess, it makes sense, it's been foreshadowed, it's classic McKay (it's my favorite part of the book), and again, it works.

So what was missing? As I'm writing this I'm realizing what was missing. Of course, the answer is simply and obviously, Sara.

She's there a little bit. Ermengarde gets letters from her, and they, more than anything else in the book, sound like Frances Hodgson Burnett could have written them herself - they are so perfectly in character. Sara also turns up at the end and imparts a key piece of information that saves everybody's lives, even though she is forced to watch the breathtaking firefight from safe behind glass. Ultimately, she's not part of the story except in that she haunts everyone by being absent. And I wanted a book about Sara, didn't I? The reason I have read A Little Princess fifty times or whatever it is, the reason I own ten different copies and versions of the book and two different film and television adaptations of it, is because I love Sara. She is my very favorite heroine ever, proud, smart, kind, generous, secretly revengeful, starving and frozen - with nerves of steel and the self-control of a general. She is the original aristocrat-thrown-into-tyrannical-servitude on which every single one of my own literary heroines, AND heroes, is based. I named my own daughter Sara.

I'm only seeing this now, but I think that basically I kept putting this book down and not coming back to it because there was no Sara to come back to. I'd read a bit, realize that she wasn't ever going to turn up, and then I'd leave the book in the summer house and find it there the following year when the weather warmed up again.

So. Here's the deal. If you love Hilary McKay, her wacky characters and her utterly engaging writing style, you will enjoy this book. The spin on the events of A Little Princess is terrific. It's got lovely happy endings for everybody (Miss Amelia and Becky both end up married, Lavinia is destined for Oxford). But if you're looking for Sara Crewe, she's not in London any more.


I also want to say that I love the way the design of this book pays tribute to the Houghton Mifflin hardback edition of A Little Princess, illustrated by Tasha Tudor, in its physical detailing (though clearly it is also designed as a companion piece to this edition: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/64... )


'Oxford is only quite an ordinary town, Lavinia… My big sister bought a hat there once, but she gave it away quite soon. My mother said afterwards that Oxford was a ridiculous place to buy a hat.'

'People,' said Lavinia, through her teeth, 'do not go to Oxford to buy hats.'

The hat on my Goodreads profile picture comes from The Hat Box in the Oxford Covered Market - 'Oxford's only specialist hat shop'! (It is now 20 years later and I have NOT given it away.)


I still buy shoes from Macsamillion, too. I would go to Oxford just to shop in the Covered Market. Of course, that is a lie - I would not go to Oxford just to shop in the Covered Market. I would have to go punting while I was there, too.


I am going to stop writing this so-called 'review' now. Because I need to get my life back.
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