It’s been five years since Jonny’s sister died. Wracked with guilt, he goes in search of answers and instead, ends up learning a lesson about reminiscing and loss from a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. An award-winning young adult novel sheds light on real-life issues.
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To anyone who grew up with white Christmases, the idea of a warm one is downright eerie. A tropical Christmas is only one of the many eerie occurrences in Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters. (OK, fine, Mahy’s book takes place in New Zealand, where she lives and where Christmas falls every year during their summer, so some people may not find this eerie. But never fear, there is plenty more to be spooked by.)
The Tricksters is the story of one family—the Hamiltons—and their second home, a beach house where they spend holidays. The house, Carnival’s Hide, is named for the Carnivals, the family who built it 90 years ago, and for the fact that it is hidden, hard to find from the road. The Carnivals had great tragedy in their life: Their son Teddy drowned in the house’s private beach cove. And the Hamiltons like to think that Teddy haunts the house. They speak of all the Carnivals in a charming family joke kind of way, gossiping about Carnival history with guests as if it were Hamilton history. They keep old Carnival portraits around the house. Every Christmas the Hamiltons greet Teddy when they come into the house. They swim in the cove before unpacking to let Teddy know that they have arrived and that he is no longer alone. But this Christmas things take an unexpected twist. When the joke seems to become a reality, the Hamiltons face their family myth of living in a haunted house.
The Hamiltons are a large family—mom, dad, two sons, and three daughters—and they are all gathered at Carnival’s Hide, along with a friend, her daughter, and a man visiting from London. The protagonist is the middle daughter, Harry. She is a writer, filling page after page of a blank book with a surreal romance. The line between the events Harry writes about and the events that actually take place in The Tricksters is blurry.
Harry runs before dawn most mornings. On her first run of the Christmas holiday at Carnival’s Hide, she encounters three men on the beach (who coincide with characters in her book). They come from nowhere, are wanderers. When they make their way to Carnival’s Hide, strange things begin to occur: They know things about the house, and all three have identical scars on their foreheads.
Harry’s mother, a town history buff, believes the three men are descendants of the Carnivals. The trio fall easily into that role, but they won’t reveal exactly how they are related. The Hamiltons conclude that they are the ghost of Teddy Carnival, or at least one of them is. Chaos ensues. Secrets are revealed. Steamy affairs are had.
The Tricksters is a real nail-biter and a very quick read. For the easily freaked out, this novel is safe because it is more intellectually challenging than scary. While you might find yourself lost at times, be assured that eventually all is revealed in a fairly satisfying manner.
Although most of The Tricksters is focused on this is-it-haunted-and-are-these-ghosts plot, it has an equally dark reality-based underbelly. Mahy reveals the Hamiltons’ fairly ugly family dynamics throughout the course of her book. Harry comes to terms with her evil, selfish, bossy, and beautiful older sister. Hamilton family secrets, it turns out, are almost as deep as Carnival family secrets. People fall in and out of love and have first experiences. Parents are seen in a completely new and not necessarily flattering light. And all of this before New Year’s Day. —Alexandra Zissu