Monday, September 15, 2014

The Changeover

For an unusual psychic vampire story, try THE CHANGEOVER (1984), by award-winning New Zealand YA author Margaret Mahy. The opening scene instantly draws the reader into the sometimes hectic life of teenage heroine Laura Chant, her little brother, Jacko, and her divorced mother, Kate. They cope with a chronic shortage of money, a car that has to be push-started every morning, and lack of a phone (Kate couldn't keep up with the bills) but are fairly happy. Laura differs from her peers in one way; she sometimes gets intuitive "warnings." When a warning strikes at the beginning of the book, Kate doesn't take it seriously. On the way home with Jacko that afternoon, though, Laura discovers the significance of her premonition when they wander into a tiny shop run by a creepily over-friendly man, Carmody Braque. He treats Jacko to a hand stamp bearing a sinister portrait of Carmody himself. Jacko soon falls mysteriously ill, unconscious and wasting away. Laura's intuition tells her that Carmody, through the stamp, is draining her brother's life. It also tells her where to turn for help, although reluctantly. She suspects Sorenson Carlisle, nicknamed Sorry, an older student at her school, of being a witch. Appealing to him, she learns that he and his mother and grandmother do indeed have magical powers.

They inform Laura that only she can save her brother. She must activate her own latent powers by changing from a mere "sensitive" to a full-fledged witch. A mystical initiation in the form of a journey through an enchanted land within her own consciousness, with Sorry, his mother, and his grandmother as gatekeepers and guides, accomplishes this "changeover." Laura undergoes a transformation that alters her forever, not just long enough to defeat Carmody. Armed with her awakened power, she of course confronts him in a sorcerous battle for Jacko's life. Meanwhile, Kate becomes involved with a man she has just met, Laura's father and his new wife appear on the scene when Jacko goes into the hospital, and, most importantly, Laura discovers a strong mutual attraction between her and Sorry.

Having lived for ten years with a foster family who misunderstood and eventually abused him because of his uncanny abilities, Sorry is deeply damaged beneath his sophisticated, lightly ironic facade. Although intellectually brilliant, he has deliberately sealed his heart away and is just beginning to learn about human emotions. Unlike Laura, he has some sexual experience, but she knows far more than he about love. She's a very believable teenager with typical adolescent insecurities and resentments (of her mother's new boyfriend, for instance) but self-aware enough to recognize when she's being unfair to Kate. Laura's changeover through a hero's quest into a psychic underworld forms the centerpiece of the story. Carmody Braque, although we meet him in person only briefly at the beginning of the crisis and not again until the Laura challenges him toward the end, remains a threatening presence we're never allowed to forget for long. The scene where Laura finally convinces him he's been dead for ages, no more than a bundle of appetites bound together by magic and will, is a tiny gem of horror.

For an American reader, THE CHANGEOVER offers the added pleasure of glimpses of everyday life in New Zealand through the eyes of an outwardly ordinary teenage girl.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

No comments: