The Changeover by Margaret Mahy is a rich, multi-layered tale that I discovered as a teen, and quickly fell in love due to its relatability, as well as in addition to it being one hell of a good read! During each reread it has delivered a fresh meaning to me and it’s one of my all time favourite reads.
The Changeover focuses on the tumultuous changes that Laura, the heroine, endures throughout puberty and later in the story, supernaturally. The story begins when Laura finds herself and Jacko, her baby brother, caught up in the clutches of a demon (Carmody Braque) who has managed to imprint himself onto Jacko and who is feeding off his life-force. Laura is the only one who realises this and finds herself asking for help from a boy at her school called Sorenson Carlisle. She knows instinctively he is a witch. Sorenson is bemused by Laura’s intuition, but decides to help her and Jacko by getting his grandmother and mother involved, who are also witches. Although the witches offer to help to save Laura’s brother, they also make Laura pay a cost that would change her life forever. Laura has to become a witch in order to strengthen their coven by magically Changingover.
To Changeover Laura has to confront her personal as well as physical fears about puberty, prospective love and magical metaphorsis. She learns and realises that she is unable to stay in the confines of the past and her childhood. But she is resentful of the changes that growing up brings. There are also other obstacles from her own mother, who is moving on with her life post divorce with another man–even though at the same time there is something wrong with Jacko. However, these changes help Laura through her magical metaphorsis as it is the only way she is able to confront Carmody Braque, the demon who is killing her baby brother.
As a teen in the 1980s it was hard to come across books that had a leading female character I could relate to. One other book I think that came close to this was Alanna, from the Song of The Lioness Quartet (I will be blogging about this later). Her resentment, fears and ponderings of growing up were things I could understand and relate to. Here is a supernatural tale of witches and demons in an ordinary setting. Laura may not be a kick ass warrior, but emotionally she is stubborn, resilient and loyal. She faces her fears to protect those she loves. Her relationship with Jacko and Sorenson fleshed out her character. It made her seem real. She is not perfect but she isn’t stupid or whiny.
One of the main strengths of this book was Sorenson. As a male witch he feels he is the odd one out in his triumvirate family of witches, who have rejected him for being a male witch, so he ends up being put in an abusive foster home. Due to this he calls himself Sorry, but despite his past and prickly relationship with his family, he does try to portray himself as the perfect, well-behaved teen. Laura, though, sees through this facade. Sorry is a true rebel at heart and because of his strange heritage, he doesn’t fit into the ideals or desires of what people want him to be. I think he was one of my first fictional crushes and his snarky anti-hero character was a joy to read about.
I think one of the scenes that stand out for me is when Laura and Sorry are at his library, and he shows her his collection of Harlequin/Mills and Boons books. His desire is to learn and understand what women really want in romance and love, yet he has a topless poster of a glamour model. I found this quite funny as I would have thought he would be the last person to read and collect romance books, especially dressed up in gothic clothing. Sorry then makes a pass at Laura, which has remained one of the most erotically charged moments I have read in a book.
Despite his anti-hero tendencies, Sorry wants a place to belong to, and in addition to this he has to face the feelings and angst of becoming an adult and dealing with sexuality and love. Sorry isn’t an idealised romantic hero and at times he can be a complete arse, but I think his romance with Laura is intrinsically romantic. It’s real and it’s messy. For me he is one of the most captivating characters I have read about.
The Changeover is multidimensional and conveys many meanings, and my understanding of the tale as an adult is on a different level from when I read the book as a teen. It deals with the complicated factors of growing up, as well as being a dark and gritty read. It doesn’t shy away from messy issues and things aren’t tied up in a neat bow at the end. The writing is lush and rich, especially the description of the magical changeover that Laura goes through over the course of the tale. The imagery of rebirth and witchcraft elements was simply fascinating. Mahy juxtaposes the ordinary with the extraordinary, which make you believe that this could truly be real. This is a wonderful book that has remained with me throughout my teens and adult life and it will always remain so. The only gripe I have is that I wish there is a sequel because I am definitely wanting and still wanting more from these characters.
I give The Changeover 4.5 out of 5.
Update: At the moment it seems to be out of print. If you’re interested in this book, try used bookstores.