Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Searching For Shona
Margaret J. Anderson
1978, Alfred A. Knopf

Orphaned heiress Marjorie Malcolm-Scott is on her way to Canada to live with relatives when she spots sometime playmate and orphanage resident Shona McInnes awaiting evacuation to the countryside. Dreading the long ocean voyage, she suggests they swap identities. The bold Shona, who has a limited sense of consequences, jumps at the chance to swap clothing. So the real Shona goes off to Canda while the pretender goes to a quiet Scottish village to stay with the Campbell sisters. Marjorie is quite happy with the results, but one thing nags at her - the village where she was sent turned out to be the same place Shona's long-lost mother came from, and Marjorie feels terrible that her friend lost out on the chance to discover her family background.

This is a cozy family book, beneath the appearance of a mystery/adventure story. It has many of the classic ingredients of a thrilling mystery/adventure story - an identity swap, a poor little rich girl, orphans, wartime privitation and an abandoned house with a tower and a tragic background - but the real well it draws from is that of a neglected child who finds happiness with unlikely parents in a chaotic time.

When they reached home, they hung up their wet coats. Miss Agnes had socks and slippers warming by the fire for them because she was sure their feet would be cold and wet after walking all the way from the picture house in that awful rain.

An unusual book in several ways. It's set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the heroine is atypical, a unadventurous sort who never changes much - she's more confident at the end, but no more bold. I like that - enough with the introverted heroines who must magically transform into extroverted ones. Marjorie is old for her years, a practical and worried child for whom the magical house and the haunting mystery of its former owners are mildly diverting but not nearly as important as the reality of her life. Her adopted sister, Anna Ray, is more of a typical heroine, dreamy and childish and prone to running off on adventures. Anna drives the plot by forcing Marjorie to do things like break into the deserted house.

Other books by author (fiction)
Olla-piska: Tales of David Douglas
Children of Summer: Henri Fabre's Insects
The Ghost inside the Monitor
The Druid’s Gift
The Mists of Time
The Brain on Quartz Mountain
Light in the Mountain
Journey of the Shadow Bairns
In the Circle of Time
In the Keep of Time
To Nowhere and Back

More information
Anderson has a website at

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