November 16, 2012


by Susan Hughes
Kids Can Press
287 pp.
Ages 14+

Having just reviewed Susan Hughes' most recent book, Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World (Owlkids, 2012), one of the few non-fiction books I've reviewed, I thought I'd include a review of a young adult novel by this same author from a few years back. If you think Susan Hughes is limited to only non-fiction, you'll have to read her novel, Virginia (Kids Can Press, 2010) which I feel is an overlooked gem.

While Ivy deals with her alcoholic mother and ineffective father, the fourteen-year-old girl tries to help her childhood friend Virginia who is convinced she has been visited by an angel and that she has been selected to carry God's child. Though Ivy and Virginia have not been close for awhile, Ivy feels she must help Virginia, especially as she seems to be kept secluded by her sisters and charismatic brother, Paul. After their father's death, Paul has started his own church, one that emphasizes the inevitable end of the world. When Ivy overhears Paul suggesting the need to hasten that end with violence, Ivy gets help from another brother of Virginia's, Joe, to keep the innocent safe.

Once Susan Hughes takes the time to introduce Ivy and Virginia and their former relationship, Virginia becomes a highly suspenseful, plot-driven story that kept me engrossed until the end. Paul's zealous sect, Virginia's angel visit and Ivy's detective work, within the context of family interrelationships, were uniquely juxtaposed against each other. Reality and fantasy seemed to meander into the other's realm. With Ivy 's attraction to Joe and her worries about Virginia getting pregnant, as well as Paul's violent agenda, this novel is more appropriate for an older audience than for the recently reviewed Off to Class but it is equally effective in telling its story. Susan Hughes' writing handles both, the fiction and the non-fiction, beautifully and appropriately, putting her in the company of the few authors who can do this well.

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