I am always delighted Eva Ibbotson publishes a new novel, so I checked this one out of the library as soon as I saw it. The story is set in England in 1939 and features a young girl named Tally. We are first introduced to Tally through the eyes and thoughts of other characters - it seems they've all heard that she is to go away to boarding school, and they are all very upset about how much they will miss her. From her own father and the aunties she lives with to Tally's elderly neighbor whose dog she walks, to her childhood friends - all are devastated by the prospect of her absence. But because they love her and realize that the scholarship to a private boarding school is a precious opportunity for her, they do their best to put on a cheerful and supportive front.
Tally herself is extremely reluctant to leave. Who will take care of her father? He is a doctor, and instead of working for wealthy clients and living in the nice part of down, like his brother, he lives in a modest home and does his best for working class clients, only charging what they can afford. But Tally agrees to go, because her father insists that it is truly the best thing for her. And she expects to hate it, especially after hearing all about her wealthy cousins' boarding schools - but it turns out that Delderton, an experimental school, is precisely the place where Tally can thrive - emotionally, intellectually, and socially.
A school trip to perform folk dancing in the small country of Bergania - a country that has thus far stood up to Hitler, refusing to allow his troops to enter - takes Tally and her friends on an unforgettable adventure. Here we are introduced to Karil, the crown prince of Bergania, a sad, lonely boy who longs to connect with someone. Tallys' chance meeting with Karil sparks a chain of events that takes her down a path of danger and discovery, in a riveting tale of friendship, bravery, loss, and redemption.
The story is delightful, not only for the characters and the plot, but because of the wonderful storytelling itself. For example, as Tally is leaving for school on the train, Ibbotson writes:
People don't die from getting into school trains and Tally, as she leaned out the window to wave, stayed incurably alive, but as she saw her father and the aunts standing very upright on the plaform she felt a sense of desolation such as she had never known.
One of my favorite characters is Pom-Pom, the dog:
Prince Dmitri's mother, the old Princess Natalia, brought a small, low-slung dog with a topknot and an ancient pedigree. Pom-Pom was descended from a long line of Outer Mongolian pedestal (or snuggle) dogs, which had been bred to warm the feet of the Great Khans in their drafty palaces and now wheezed through the corridors of Rottingdene House, seeking the dark, familiar world of legs and shoes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this YA book, with its combination of fairytale and historical novel with a dash of alternate reality thrown in. The characters are charming and complex and utterly believable, and I closed the book feeling I'd spent a delightful time with some very dear friends. I highly recommend this one!
The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson (Dutton Children's Books, 2008)
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Pictures and Conversations: "Whenever I talk about Eva Ibbotson’s writing I almost forget to mention that she writes cracking stories filled with believable characters. She does, of course. But I might read her books even if they didn’t have great plots just for the joy of living in her sublime language for a while."
Welcome to My Tweendom: "Fans of Ibbotson should love this, as should fans of Creech, Birdsall, and even Cushman. With strong boy and girl characters and a fast moving story, the appeal crosses gender lines as well. A perfect choice for the tweensters during this season of gift-giving!"