Aunt Maria is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1991 by Greenwillow. Jones’ website can be found here.
“Mig loves happy endings, but can there be any in Cranbury-on-Sea? Mig’s family is staying with old Aunt Maria in this seaside village, which they’ve quickly realized isn’t as peaceful as it seems.
The men are gray-suited zombies; the children are orphans who cat like well-behaved clones; and the women nervously flock around Aunt Maria’s tea parties to do her bidding. She looks like a sweet little old lady, but she’s as deadly as poison.
Then she turns Mig’s brother Chris into a wolf! If Mig’s family is to escape, Mig must find out what has given Aunt Maria her power—and defeat her!”
What I Liked:
I love Jones’ descriptions. They’re so very unique and effective and so distinctly hers. I mean, you can tell you’re reading a DWJ book when you see those descriptions.
Mig wasn’t so much the hero here as her mother was. Go, Mum! Seriously, mothers need to Save The World more often in books. Also, that thing with Antony Green? Totally called it, but then again it was pretty obvious.
Mig, by the way, is an awesome nickname. I wonder if it’s British or if Jones made it up?
Another thing that I wondered if Jones made up: “poopling/pooples,” as in “she had a poopling sort of voice,” and “gooped,” as in “Mum and I sort of gooped at one another.” Strange words, those. I laughed hysterically at “gooped,” though, and read it about five times over.
What I Didn’t Like:
This is probably my least favorite DWJ book that I’ve read, which makes me kind of sad. The back cover makes it sound so much more exciting than it actually was. It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t great.
The whole male/female magic thing was just…blarg. It was all, “No, men and women are the same, really! It’s when they’re treated as different that things go wrong! See, look, we shut away all the men’s virtue in this box because that’s not manly! And all the women dress like they’re from the Victorian era because patriarchy rant rant!” First, that’s just a bad way to make that argument. Second, it really just overshadows the entire book. Third, what do the characters even learn from this, anyway? Nothing! Everything remains the same. If you want to make the point this obvious, then at least show some change.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade
When I set the table, Aunt Maria said, “We’re just camping out tonight. Don’t bother to put napkins, dear. It’s fun using kitchen cutlery.”
I thought she meant it, so I didn’t look for napkins until Mum whispered, “Don’t be silly, Mig! It’s just her polite way of saying she’s used to napkins and her best silver. Go and look.”
Mum is very good at understanding Aunt Maria’s polite way of saying things. It has already caused her a lot of work. If she doesn’t watch out, she’s not going to get any kind of holiday at all. It has caused her to clean the cutlery with silver polish and to roll up the hall carpet in case someone slips on it in the night, and put the potted plants in the bath, and force Chris to wind all seven clocks, and help Aunt Maria upstairs, where Mum and I undressed her and put her hair in pigtails, and plump her pillows in the way Aunt Maria said she wouldn’t bother with as Lavinia was not there, and then to lay out her things for morning. Aunt Maria said we were not to, of course.
“And I won’t bother with breakfast, now Lavinia’s not here to bring it me in bed, dear,” was Aunt Maria’s final demand. Mum promised to bring her breakfast on a tray at eight-thirty sharp. It’s a very useful way of bullying people.
I think the lid was even more beautifully green and complicated on the inside. But I didn’t really notice, because whatever was inside the box started to come out at once. It wasn’t quite invisible. You could tell it was bulging and billowing out of the box in clouds, fierce and determined and impatient. The clones all stepped back a solemn pace to give it room. It was all round me. The air felt thick, so that I had to press against it to move, even just to breathe, and it fizzed in a funny way in my hair and on my face. I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell it was very forbidden.
Aunt Maria is not very exciting or riveting; it’s mostly dull with a few bright spots here and there. I think Jones’ point ran away with her a little bit and really just overshadowed the entire book. Mig’s mother was fantastic, though. It’s better than a lot of other Middle Grade stuff out there, but Jones has written better books.
You can buy this book here: Aunt Maria
Coming Up Next: Justin Thyme by Panama Oxridge